Reforms at the state and local levels have shrunk the prison population. "Federal laws took some part in that -- allowing prisoners to serve only a certain percentage of their term," he said. "Also, they've reduced prison sentences for certain drug-related offenses."
As the wave of mass incarceration begins to recede, the Mississippi controversy has local and state officials talking openly about how harmful locking up fewer people up will be for the economy, confirming the suspicions of those who have argued that mass incarceration is not merely a strategy directed at crime prevention. "Under the administrations of Reagan and Clinton, incarceration, a social tool used for punishment, also became a major job creator," Antonio Moore, a producer of the documentary "Crack in the System," wrote recently. [...]
The prisoners have value beyond the per diem, county officials add, when they can be put to work. State prisoners do garbage pickup, lawn maintenance and other manual labor that taxpayers would otherwise have to pay for. Convict labor has made it easier for local governments to absorb never-ending cuts in state funding, as tea party legislators and governors slash budgets in the name of conservative government. [...]
"You either gotta hire a bunch of employees or keep that inmate."