Gov. Tate Reeves talked about corrections while delivering his 2022 State of the State Address on January 25 to a joint session of the Legislature on the south steps outside the Capitol Building.
Gov. Reeves also alluded to the work of MDOC Commissioner Burl Cain whom he appointed in May 2020 to lead the agency.
“Another area where our collaboration is going to be key is improving Mississippi’s corrections system. Two years ago, as I stood before you, and as I took office, we were facing prison riots that resulted in serious violence. To address the issues in the system, we needed a cultural reset. To ensure that we took control, and took proper care of those who were serving time, to preserve the safety of our citizens, we needed to stem the rising tide of violence.
“I’m proud to say that cultural overhaul is happening. The system is different than it was two years ago. We’re making incredible progress. Under the leadership of Commissioner Cain, we are hiring more guards, we are combatting gang violence, we are turning the tide and we’re taking control.
“Time in prison often leads to despair. When you have a lack of hope, you don’t just serve your time. You commit to a life of crime. Instead of returning to society having taken your discipline, the cycle of violence continues. The inmates return. We can break that cycle for hundreds of inmates and that will lead us to a safer state. We are committed to offering hope of a better life that begins with opportunity. Today, in state prisons, we’re working hard to offer training and meaningful work that can not only fill the days, it can set an offender up for a peaceful life on the outside.
“Just last month, Commissioner Cain unveiled a mobile welding training center that will help train inmates for a career in wielding, post release. The mobile welding training center, which by the way was not paid for by taxpayer funds, can train 32 inmates at a time and will rotate between prisons every 90 days. At the end of that program, trainees who have completed it will receive a certificate that they can use to find a job.
“But that’s not the only program we’re leveraging to train inmates. For example, the automotive service excellence certification where inmates can learn to work on car motors and small engines, or the National Center for Construction Education and Research certification which prepares enrollees in a variety of skills that will translate to jobs in the construction industry. These programs work and we need more of them.
“Now some of you may be asking yourselves, ‘why should we be offering these types of opportunities to those who have been convicted of a crime?’ [and] ‘why should we allocate funds toward educational opportunities for those who are incarcerated?’ The answer is actually pretty straight forward. We should do it because it is a wise investment.
"The proof is in the numbers. The average cost to house an inmate in 2020 was over $50 per day. The cost of vocational training depending on the program is approximately $2,000 a year. The question you may be asking is, ‘well, is it worth it?’ In my view, the answer is an emphatic yes. Here’s why. In 2020, the general recidivism rate in Mississippi was 37.4 percent. According to the Department of Corrections, initial data shows that under Commissioner Cain’s leadership, the recidivism rate for those who have completed re-entry and vocational training is less than half that.
“What does that mean for you? As a taxpayer, a $2,000 investment can save you over $18,000 a year. But most importantly, there will be fewer crimes, fewer victims, safer communities, and a skilled workforce who has a second chance at life. If we want to break the cycle of recidivism, we must invest in a cycle of education and learning. That’s why in my most recent Executive Budget Request, I proposed allocating $2 million for re-entry programs geared toward Mississippians who will be eligible for parole within six months. Additionally, I have proposed funding to expand work release pilot programs that has already shown so much promise to each of Mississippi’s 82 counties.
“I think, and I hope, we can all agree that no matter how much we invest in training for those re-entering society, unfortunately there will always be a crime element present. It will never be completely eliminated.”