MDOC putting focus on rehabilitation

Published 12:29 pm Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Mississippi Department of Corrections is expanding its focus on helping offenders transition from prison to everyday life as the amount of people on probation and parole continues to far outpace those behind bars, MDOC officials told Vicksburg Kiwanis Tuesday.

Mississippi had 17,551 people incarcerated as of Tuesday and 31,532 people on probation, parole or other active supervision, Christy Gutherz, the departments’ deputy commissioner of community corrections, said.

“When people hear the term department of corrections, they always think about prisons. But I’m here to tell you this morning that while Parchman Farm has been infamously depicted in movies, songs and all types of other things, there’s a whole lot more to the department of corrections that what happens at Parchman Farm,” Gutherz said.

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Mississippi is now more focused on rehabilitation and helping inmates re-enter society, she said. Previously, focusing on punishment and incarceration led to budget woes and only a slight decrease in crime rates, she said.

“Hopefully they will become a productive member of our society. As my counterpart, the deputy commissioner of institutions, likes to tell folks we want taxpayers, not tax burdens,” Gutherz said. “We understand fully while they are incarcerated they are a tax burden.”

In some probation and parole offices around the state, the Thinking for a Change program is being piloted.

“This is a cogitative behavior model program that teaches young men and women an alternative way to look at things and change their cognitive skills in learning how better to resolve problems that what they’ve tried to do in the past,” she said.

Gutherz said there are 356 probation and parole agents in the state, meaning each is responsible for supervising nearly 100 convicted felons apiece.

Additional help for veterans who find themselves on the wrong side of the law is also in the works, Gutherz said.

“We’re having a conversation later this week with a group that is looking for a partnership with MDOC to serve incarcerated veterans,” she said.

The state had 875 incarcerated veterans and approximately 1,100 in some sort of supervised release program as of Tuesday, Gutherz said. The Soldier On program would go into prisons and offer program to help veterans prepare to re-enter society.

Gutherz was appointed deputy commissioner in January and reports to MDOC Commissioner Marshall Fisher, the former head of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics.

The state agency has approximately 2,600 employees in administration and two other divisions and works on a budget of $374 million.

The institutions division has oversight of every inmate in three state prisons, county jails, five private prisons, and 11 regional prisons. The Warren County Jail does not house state inmates.

The community corrections division has oversight of offenders on probation, parole and other types of earned release or in one of the state’s restitution centers. As of Tuesday, there were 1,335 people held in restitution centers across the state, Gutherz said.