By Lonnie Ross
Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Christopher B. Epps was sworn in on Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, as the 102nd president of the American Correctional Association (ACA). He is a native of Tchula, Mississippi.
The ACA, founded in 1870 as the National Prison Association, is the oldest and largest international correctional association in the world. The organization has more than 20,000 members from 60 countries.
Epps will lead the organization for two years. “This is an honor for Commissioner Epps and brings distinction to our state,” Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said. “I appreciate the hard work and dedication of the commissioner and all of the Department of Corrections staff.”
Epps, in his 11th year as Mississippi’s corrections chief, is uniquely qualified to assume the helm of this premier corrections organization. He is the longest serving commissioner in MDOC history.
He was first appointed by then-Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove Aug. 30 2002, and reappointed Jan. 13 2004, by then Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, who served two terms. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant reappointed him on Jan. 11, 2012.
Epps is a nationally recognized leader in corrections. Through his leadership, Mississippi has become a model for corrections reform.
During his watch, the department has become number one in corrections reform, drawing visitors both from within and outside of the United States to discuss administrative segregation, commonly known as solitary confinement and Managed Access in dealing with illicit cell phones.
Mississippi’s recidivism rate has been reduced from 30.3 percent to 27.6 percent in the last three years, one of the lowest in the nation, while the national recidivism rate is 52 percent over a three-year period. Additionally, even though the national average to incarcerate an inmate is $65.41 per inmate/per day, Mississippi enjoys one of the lowest costs per inmate day: $41.51.
“Commissioner Epps will be viewed as the ambassador for our state as ACA president,” Mississippi State Senator Willie Simmons said.
Simmons believes that the state will greatly benefit from Epps tenure as president of ACA. He said that Epps will be able to work at the national level, set policy and work with national leaders to bring benefits to Mississippi.
“I am delighted and really excited about this,” Simmons said. He said he believes Epps will be able to bring regional and national conferences, meetings and funding sources to Mississippi.
Reacting to the swearing in of Epps, Dennis Martin, president of Premier, a Mississippi-based technology company said, “Commissioner Epps has provided an open door policy for us to discuss and refine technological innovations for the corrections industry. His heart for cutting-edge technologies and streamlined operational efficiencies will enable President Epps to lead the ACA to even higher standards.”
In his remarks, after being sworn in, Epps said he will seek to get more agencies ACA accredited and to increase the number of agencies receiving the ACA Golden Eagle award. Currently, Mississippi is one of 18 recipients of the Golden Eagle, presented to those who have accredited every facet of their agency. MDOC is the 14th state correctional system in the nation to achieve this accomplishment.
According to Epps, getting fully accredited in Mississippi saved the state millions of dollars and led to the dismissal of one of the lengthiest lawsuits in the country. Epps also said he wants to continue focusing on health care issues, more rehabilitation and less administrative segregation. He also plans to push for more re-entry programs. “It’s time to let the world know that corrections walks the toughest beat in town.”
Epps is an ACA auditor. He was elected in 2004 to the ACA Commission on Accreditation, where he served for a four-year term. In 2006, he was appointed to the ACA Commission on Accreditation Executive Board. In 2008, he was elected by the members as ACA Treasurer. In 2010, he was elected president elect of ACA. Both positions allowed him to serve on the ACA Executive Board.
In addition to his leadership with ACA, he is vice president of the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) and was ASCA treasurer. Epps said, “My experience and success in corrections will help me to not only be an effective leader for ACA but also will help my state stay on the forefront of current matters in criminal justice.”
Epps started his career with the Department of Corrections in 1982 as a correctional officer at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.Simmons said that he was Epps’ supervisor when they both worked in corrections. “I know his family, and we have a great personal and professional relationship.”
Epps received an honorable discharge from the Mississippi National Guard in March 2008, when he retired as a lieutenant colonel, having served in the armed forces since 1984.
In December 2012, he was honored as the nation’s Outstanding Corrections Commissioner for 2011 with the Michael Francke Award from the ASCA.
He was also named one of the “50 Most Influential African Americans in Mississippi” by BlackMississippi.com.