NEW Report: Criminal Justice Reform Can Strengthen Mississippi’s Economy and Workforce

“The Cost of Doing Business” Outlines Why Reform is the Right Investment to Boost Mississippi’s Workforce Participation, Improve Public Safety, & Save Taxpayer Dollars


JACKSON, MS – A new report released today, The Cost of Doing Business: Why Criminal Justice Reform is the Right Investment to Strengthen Mississippi’s Economy and Workforce, highlights how Mississippi can drive economic growth, meet critical workforce needs, and strengthen the state for businesses and families by pursuing commonsense criminal justice reforms. Currently, Mississippi’s extremely high imprisonment rate is hindering the state’s economy and workforce development. By both fully implementing past reforms and passing additional commonsense policies that would safely reduce the number of people in prison, Mississippi could see a boost to the economy and a stronger workforce for communities throughout the state, all while advancing public safety.

Mississippi’s highest-in-the-country imprisonment rate is a key reason why Mississippi has the nation’s lowest labor force participation rate, directly removing individuals from the workforce and making it extremely difficult for people to find or hold a job after they come home.

“Mississippi’s business and elected leaders know how vital growing our economy and developing our workforce is to communities across the state, and this new report makes clear that pursuing commonsense criminal justice reforms will do both,” said Alesha Judkins, Mississippi State Director. “Safely reducing Mississippi’s prison population will address our workforce challenges and boost the economic development Mississippians know is possible, while prioritizing public safety to help our communities thrive.”

“There’s good news here for Mississippi – we can grow our economy, save taxpayer dollars, and meet critical workforce needs all at the same time by making smart policy choices that prioritize public safety and will keep more people in the labor force,” said Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons. “In 2018, I started the Greenville Reentry and Training (GREAT Program) that employs formerly incarcerated people, and have seen firsthand the important contributions they can have for our city. We know that helping people get back on their feet and back to work strengthens Greenville and all of our communities.”

“By working to advance commonsense policies and expand employment opportunities to currently and formerly incarcerated people just makes sense – not only to ensure our state has the workforce to power our economy but also to help reduce recidivism by ensuring our neighbors can contribute to their communities and take care of their families,” said Bradley Lum, Deputy Commissioner of Workforce Development for MDOC. 

“We can’t ‘arrest’ away our problems – Mississippi deserves a meaningful conversation about making a robust investment in what works to make our communities safer, like early childhood education, a robust investment in our public school system, and job training that will meet the challenges we face,” said Major General (Ret.) Leon Collins, CEO of MINACT, Inc. “We must invest more in facilities, technology, and equipment in ALL schools, and continue career training programs that help ensure people who have been incarcerated can successfully return home and contribute to our communities.”

“Mississippi’s leaders can help boost the economy, save taxpayer dollars, and strengthen communities across the state by fully implementing past reforms and advancing more commonsense reforms that will safely reduce incarceration,” added Judkins. “This would improve public safety while simultaneously helping the state’s economy and workforce to reach their full potential.”

Key findings in the report include:

  • Pursuing criminal justice reforms will grow Mississippi’s economy and meet vital workforce needs. Fully implementing past reforms and advancing more commonsense reforms will strengthen the workforce while advancing public safety and saving taxpayer dollars.
  • Long prison terms remove people from Mississippi’s already low labor force without making the state safer. Mississippi has the lowest labor force participation rate in the country. Currently, just 54% of the state’s working-age population is either employed or actively looking for work.
  • Long prison sentences contribute to the state’s disproportionately small workforce by directly removing people from the labor force, despite research showing that long sentences do not make us safer.
  • Collateral consequences weaken Mississippi’s workforce long into the future without improving public safety. People with criminal convictions experience higher rates of unemployment and underemployment, leading to a reduction in people’s annual earnings by thousands of dollars. An estimated 29% of Mississippi adults have a criminal conviction, 11% have a felony conviction, and 5% have spent time in prison. Each year Mississippi’s economy, and especially the small businesses that people rely on, lose an estimated $2.7 billion in earnings due to criminal convictions.
  • Mississippi’s criminal justice system impedes its economic growth without making communities safer. Mississippi’s taxpayers spend more than $400 million each year to run the state prison system. If Mississippi reduced its imprisonment rate to that of neighboring states, it could save anywhere from $60 million to $220 million a year.
  • A “lack of qualified workers” was the top concern for business leaders last year. The state recently reported an estimated 85,000 job openings, or nearly two job openings for every person in Mississippi actively looking for employment.

More information and the full report can be found here.

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