DESOTO COUNTY, MS (abc24.com) - Reduce the prison population. That's the task before Mississippi lawmakers. The state has the second highest number of inmates in the nation and it comes with a price tag.
Lawmakers are debating ways to bring the cost and number of inmates down. There's not enough money and there are too many prisoners. Two different bills are being worked on that would change how Mississippi inmates are handled.
"My opinion is if they go to prison, they need to stay in prison," says Desoto County District Attorney John Champion. He deals with the prison system almost every day.
"Our job is to get them there," he says. "The cost housing inmates is going up everyday."
State lawmakers, tasked with footing the bill, are trying to get some of the criminals out.
"There has to be a fine line drawn," Champion says. "With just how high we want the cost to go as opposed to protecting society."
Lawmakers are considering two main changes. The first would put more criminals on house arrest and the second would change what's considered a felony offense.
Right now, stealing anything over $500 is a felony with criminals subject to prison time. State legislators are considering upping that number to $1,000 or $1,500.
"I think they all need to go," says Gina Lynn. "If they steal, they need to go. That's it. Just as simple as that."
"Instead of automatic jail time, they could do community service -- maybe two or three years of community service," suggests Shominique Burton.
Monitoring inmates under house arrest costs a third of the price tag as housing them in state prisons.
Champion says if the state goes down that road, they need to be careful.
"There needs to be something put in place that does a better job screening who's going to be placed on house arrest." He says that's needed "instead of looking at the numbers and saying 'Okay we've got too many here, we need to release some.'"
Both bills are being debated by the state House and Senate. Whatever new laws are passed will not affect current inmates.