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


On March 28, 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi in collaboration with Justice Strategies released NUMBERS GAME: The Vicious Cycle of Incarceration in Mississippi’s Criminal Justice System. The report's examination of the State's drug enforcement and sentencing system, co-authored by Judith Greene and Patricia Allard, raises troubling concerns about the focus of federally funded drug task forces, the unchecked use of confidential informants and the cumulative negative impact these law enforcement tactics have on relationships between police and the community. The report concludes that there are serious structural problems in Mississippi's drug enforcement and sentencing scheme sufficient to require reform efforts that would enhance public safety, protect civil rights and ensure the state’s fiscal solvency.

Major findings in the NUMBERS GAME report include that:

  • Mississippi’s regional drug task force funding, contingent on the quantity of drug arrests, encourages the indiscriminate use of confidential informants to increase arrest numbers over the quality and public safety impact of the drug cases.
  • Poorly-structured drug laws, limiting the judicial discretion of judges, produce extremely harsh sentences for relatively minor street-level transactions involving small amounts of drugs, coupled with police enforcement strategies focused on producing high volume low-impact arrest numbers pressure defendants to work as informers, even when drug treatment might prove a better public safety option.
  • Black Mississippians are three times more likely than whites to go to prison on drug charges even as drug use rates are largely identical for both groups.
  • The secrecy that shrouds the unchecked use of confidential informants is a practice that invites abuse, undermines the fundamental legitimacy of the criminal justice system and basic social structures in targeted communities. ACLU's two year attempt to secure basic information on the practice, acknowledged by state officials as public files under Mississippi’s Public Record Act, has gone unfulfilled.

NUMBERS GAME provides Mississippi policymakers with effective criminal justice policy recommendations that can enhance public safety, protect civil rights and ensure the state’s fiscal solvency. The many recommendations presented in the report are categorized as calls for:

  1. Reform of Mississippi’s harsh drug sentencing laws.
  2. Improvements to the effectiveness of federally funded drug task forces.
  3. Curbing abuses within the confidential informant system.
  4. Establishing safeguards that would protect confidential informants from the real dangers to themselves, their families and acquaintances emanating from their recruitment to work as informants.