Numbers Game: The Vicious Cycle of Incarceration in Mississippi's Criminal Justice System

Document Date: March 28, 2011
Affiliate: ACLU of Mississippi

The people of Mississippi deserve and demand crime policies that promote public safety, treat people fairly — regardless of the size of their pocketbook or the color of their skin — and use public resources wisely.

Unfair, ineffective, financially unsustainable, and counterproductive — these area all terms that, regrettably, apply to significant aspects of Mississippi’s criminal justice policy. Mississippi’s drug law enforcement infrastructure is fundamentally flawed and in dire need of reform. This report undertakes a review and analysis of some of the most troubling aspects of the state’s criminal justice system, with a particular focus on drug law enforcement, and offers recommendations for reform. It is our hope that the findings will both further existing reform efforts and catalyze action towards additional change.

We will begin with a look at Mississippi’s overly harsh sentencing policies, which have produced skyrocketing incarceration rates at unsustainable cost, with little benefit to public safety and a host of negative consequences. Next, we will investigate the conduct of Mississippi’s expansive Multi-Jurisdictional Drug Task Forces and the illogical funding mechanisms that lead them to pursue large numbers of low-level offenders, with predictably poor results. Then, we will turn our attention to the rampant use of confidential informants — primarily to apprehend smalltime, nonviolent drug offenders. In addition to identifying why the use of confidential informants fails to achieve law enforcement’s basic goals, we will uncover the destructive consequences of Mississippi’s informant practices — examining how the largely unregulated and unmonitored informant system harms innocent individuals, erodes the rule of law, unravels the social fabric, and disproportionately impacts African American communities. Finally, we will document stories from Mississippi and beyond that illustrate both the extent and the depth of injustice in today’s drug enforcement tactics.

Throughout the report, we will witness how these three broken aspects of Mississippi’s criminal justice system interact, generating a vicious cycle of perverse incentives that must first be acknowledged in order to be properly addressed. At base, Mississippi’s criminal justice system has come to be defined by a logically, morally and, increasingly, financially bankrupt “numbers game” that prizes above all else arrest and incarceration of as many as possible for as long as possible.

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