/Bipartisanship on display at IHL conference

Bipartisanship on display at IHL conference

At the University Research Center’s conference, Thursday saw a variety of research presentations from lawmakers and researchers on everything from the state’s teacher shortage to its criminal Justice system. Highlight was the unlikely political duo of Rep. Joel Bomgar (R-Madison) and Rep. Kabir Karriem (D-Columbus), who shared their opinions on the issue that they all agree on: further criminal justice reform in Mississippi. Mississippi legislators passed legislation in 2014 that redirects drug and alcohol dependent offenders to drug courts and intensive supervision, instead of prison. Many credit the law for the state’s decline in inmate population which fell from 22,000 to 18,000 in 2012 to 2014. Bomgar said, “That’s meaningful movement of 4,000 people. But what are those 4,000 people doing right now?” “Nobody knows.” Karriem and Bomgar cited statistics showing that although 18,000 might seem small, almost 500,000 Mississippians have criminal convictions. According to them, this can impact their ability to find work and the state’s economy. Bomgar, who is a conservative Christian and describes himself as a Christian, stated that part of the Republican Party’s problem with this issue was what he called the “pull yourself up at your bootstraps mentality, if work doesn’t pay you you’re lazy mentality.” He said, “There are elements to personal responsibility, but it’s possible to create government systems which hurt people.” Bomgar and Karriem both discussed the need for the state’s reconsideration of jailing people for certain nonviolent offenses, and making those who are released more employable. Bomgar said that you must pay fees and fines in order to obtain your driver’s licence back after being incarcerated. But if you don’t have transportation, how will you get to work to pay those fines and fees?” Karriem pointed to Georgia legislation as an example of what Mississippi could do. This legislation prohibits the use of the box in state government job applications that asks about criminal history. After a felony drug conviction is over, the law removes the lifetime restriction on eligibility for food stamps. Karriem was asked if they would introduce legislation similar to Georgia’s at the 2017 session. He said that he needed to do more research. Both men stated that they would like to have the details ready by the end the year so that the 2017 session can proceed. Karriem, who runs expungement clinics within his district, spoke out about the need to expunge certain records so that they can’t live their lives “wearing scarlet letter F (felon)”. Mississippi State University academics presented their findings, which showed that the most important predictors of whether a school area will be considered a critical shortage region are race, location, and funding. A district that has 60 or more teaching positions is considered to be a critical shortage area if 10 percent or more of its teachers are not licensed in the subject they teach. The conference also covered: