The Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond, June 12, 2015.

Mississippi has the second highest rate of jail admissions per capita in the country, according a report released last month by the Prison Policy Initiative.

Analysis conducted by the national criminal-justice focused think tank found an estimated 84,000 unique jail admissions annually in the state. At 2,814 unique jail admissions per 100,000 residents, Mississippi ranks behind South Dakota and ahead of the state of Oklahoma.

“That should be alarming,” said Prison Policy Initiative spokesperson Wanda Bertram. “Especially looking at the rate of imprisonment among the U.S. and other countries, it should be shocking to anyone to see that the U.S. rate of imprisonment is even lower than some state rates of jail admissions. We’re jailing in many states upwards of 2,000 people per 100,000 state residents. That is wildly high.”

The data draw on a broader national report the group released in August that examined people arrested and jailed repeatedly, which drew from a federal survey on drug use and health. The report’s authors found that these “frequent utilizers” are more likely to be people of color, unemployed, without a high school education and in poverty. These people are also more likely to be diagnosed with chronic health conditions.

“That should actually give us hope because what that means is that we can bring down the number of people in the criminal justice system radically by implementing policies that expand social welfare and protect vulnerable people, ” Bertram said. “Those policies will also make life better for everyone, instead of jail.”

The number of people who go to jail in a year may be even higher than the reported estimate, as the federal survey excludes some groups, including people already in jails and prisons.

The report provides a rare glimpse at the number of people detained each year, data otherwise not collected across Mississippi’s county and municipal jails.

State lawmakers have yet to contend with the dearth of data available on local jails; multiple bills to establish central data collection across local jails died in committee last year.

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Michelle Liu was a 2018 corps member for Report for America, a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms. She covered criminal justice issues across the state from June 2018 until May 2020. Prior to joining the Mississippi Today team, her work appeared in the New Haven Independent.