Criminal justice reform measures advance in House and Senate

The Mississippi House and Senate have continued to advance a number of important justice measures as lawmakers hit their most recent deadline.

“It is time for impactful criminal justice reform legislation such as those addressing parole and habitual laws that would help individuals deserving of a second chance, their families, a strained corrections budget, burdened taxpayers, and Mississippi as a whole to reach the governor’s desk and be signed into law,” said Steven Randle, Director of Justice and Work for Empower Mississippi. “Each of these bills will help protect public safety, ensure the punishment fits the crime, and provide a path to earn second chances.”

The following bills remain active:

  • Senate Bill 2795, filed by Sen. Juan Barnett, and House Bill 525, filed by Rep. Kevin Horan, would reform Mississippi’s parole system to give correction officials better gatekeeping tools and bring the system in line with conservative states like Texas.
  • House Bill 796, filed by Rep. Nick Bain, would reform Mississippi’s habitual sentencing laws so that a non-violent third offense, such as minor drug possession, cannot result in someone going to prison for life without the possibility of parole.

Rep. Bain also sponsored two other important pieces of legislation:

  • House Bill 551 would allow those who are released from prison to obtain a driver’s license, an important step to ensuring former offenders do not recidivate.
  • House Bill 196 would require prisons to provide the basic standard of health care for pregnant women who are incarcerated, recognizing that not only the health and safety of the mother is involved, but that of an unborn child.

Unfortunately, SB 2792, commonly referred to as the Fresh Start Act, was killed on a point of order raised by Rep. Stacey Hobgood Wilkes in the Mississippi House. The bill, which was wildly popular in both chambers, would have made it easier for released offenders to find work by removing regulatory barriers. Data overwhelming demonstrates that the ability of an ex-offender to find work is the number one factor that prevents a return from prison.

Each of these bills will now go to conference where lawmakers from the House and Senate will work through differences before members make a final vote.