Mississippi — the world’s leader in imprisoning people — will soon skyrocket past its capacity to hold them all. In just 10 months, the state’s prison population has exploded, rising almost twice as fast as inflation. If this rate persists, the Mississippi Department of Corrections would exceed its listed capacity of 20,443 over the next several months, reports Mississippi Today. Eldon Vail, an inspector of Mississippi prisons in recent years, called the alarming rate “pouring gasoline on a top of a fire that is already raging.” Between 1993 and 2013, the state’s prison population more than quadrupled, thanks largely to mandatory minimum sentences, with the population peaking in the past decade at more than 23,000. That prompted a push for reforms that included legislation signed by then Republican Gov. Phil Bryant in 2014.
In the years since, reforms and an aggressive Parole Board reduced the number of inmates. By 2016, Mississippi had fallen into third place in per capita imprisonment, trailing Louisiana and Oklahoma. Five years later, the Mississippi Earned Parole Eligibility Act gave thousands more inmates the opportunity to go before the Parole Board. By Feb. 7, the prison population had fallen to 16,499, the lowest level in two decades.
That fall mirrored the nation, which saw the prison population decline more than 16 perent in all states but one between 2019 and 2021, according to the Vera Institute of Justice. Under the leadership of new Parole Board Chairman Jeffrey Belk, that trend has reversed itself. Ten months later, Mississippi’s prison population exceeds 19,000 in what the Corrections and Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force calls “unprecedented growth.” If the growth continues at the same rate through 2023, that population would surpass 22,500 for the first time since 2010.