/Gang bill could curtail legislators’ efforts to reduce size of prison population

Gang bill could curtail legislators’ efforts to reduce size of prison population

In criminal justice matters, it is almost like the Legislature has two personalities. The most important effort to decrease prison population is the proposal to reduce the state’s “habitual criminal laws” where three convictions result in people receiving “extreme sentences”. Many convictions are non-violent. According to Empower Mississippi, 78 people were convicted of drug-related charges in Mississippi. This resulted in 4,686 years imprisonment at a total cost of $70million. Black men make up 75 per cent of those who are sentenced to at least 20 years under the habitual crime laws. Nick Bain (Republican, House Judiciary Board Chair), cited Tameka Drummer, who was convicted for a violent crime and a drug offense. She was then found with marijuana in her vehicle, now serving a life sentence. Bain proposed a bill to reduce the impact of state’s habitual crime laws. It would allow for parole for Tameka Drummer, 78, and others who are serving time for habitual offenses, including over 900 serving 20-year sentences. This bill could not only reduce prison population but could also result in shorter sentences in the future. Given the $50 per day cost of housing an inmate, paroles could have a major impact on the state’s budget. Bain’s bill was passed by the House with little debate and no dissenting votes. This bill would have been subject to intense scrutiny not too long ago and would most likely have been defeated due to the opposition of some Democrats and near unanimous opposition from Republican legislators. Republicans now control all aspects state government. They have concluded that locking people up and tossing the key is not always an option when you consider the difficulties and costs of running a prison system. Governor said, “We have people in jail today that don’t need to be there.” Tate Reeves has spent most of his time as governor dealing in violent prison conditions. There seems to be renewed interest in legislation that would make it easier for people to be released from prison after the violence at the state prisons earlier this year. Bain’s habitual crime bill is not the only legislation under consideration. It also includes legislation that would make it easier to parole violent criminals. Officials speculate that additional parole officers might be required to handle the increase in parolees. While legislators are looking for ways to decrease prison population, they are also trying to address some of the problems they feel are negatively impacting the state. The Gang Act, according to some, allows prosecutors to impose harsher penalties for crimes committed by gang members. Prosecutors could request longer sentences, up to 15 years, for anyone convicted under the Gang Act. A person could also be charged with being a violent criminal even if the underlying crime wasn’t violent if the bill is passed. Some believe the money could be used to fund anti-gang programs in schools rather than to finance additional days of imprisonment. Brice Wiggins (R-Pascagoula), Senate Judiciary B Chair, said that the Gang Act “gives law enforcement another instrument” to address a problem that has affected many communities. The bill, he says, is focused on gang leaders and does not differ from the FBI’s past focus on mob activity. Wiggins also stated that he would like to see legislation passed to decrease the state’s prison population. Robert Johnson, a state representative from Natchez, acknowledged that there is a problem with gangs in some areas of the state. However, he questioned the wisdom behind creating a special class who will be subject to increased penalties. He stated that people shouldn’t be held longer just because they are associated with gangs. The bill will not be compatible with other proposals to reduce prison population, he said. These are the problems facing the Mississippi Legislature, as it grapples how to pay for the third-largest prison population in the country.