/Lawmakers consider ‘common sense’ laws to ease prison sentences for minors

Lawmakers consider ‘common sense’ laws to ease prison sentences for minors

According to a Southern Poverty Law Center report, one out of 14 Mississippi prisoners — approximately 1,181 — was detained and arrested before the age 18. Black families are particularly affected by the practice of locking down minors: 85% of those who were brought to prison as children are Black. Two bills are being considered by lawmakers to reduce prison sentences for youth. This would be in line with the state’s goal of decreasing prison population. “We are trying to show that the juvenile sentencing is common sense. It’s common sense if you want decarcerate prisons,” Delvin Davis, SPLC policy analyst, said. The Republican Senate Judiciary B Committee Chairman, Sen. Joey Fillingane has drafted a bill that would allow life sentences for those who were younger than 18 when they commit a crime. This new law would allow most of these individuals to be eligible for parole after twenty years. A second bill, the Youthful Offender Law, was authored by Democratic Rep. Jeffrey Harness. It makes it easier to get supervised release for good behaviour for those who were younger than 21 at the time they were arrested. Mississippi is still one of the most imprisoning states in America, surpassing Oklahoma recently, which passed significant reforms that allowed more people to reduce or commute their sentences. According to Prison Policy Initiative, Mississippi would be second in the world for incarceration, behind Louisiana. One in 100 Mississippians is locked up. This includes juvenile detention centers, immigration jails, and prisons. Mississippi spends $18,480 per year to imprison one person. For comparison, in-state tuition costs at Mississippi State University or University of Mississippi cost less than $10,000 per year. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sending minors to mandatory life in prison without parole was unconstitutional. This includes cases of violent crime. Mississippi, however, challenged the ruling and the conservative new court last year upheld harsh sentencing of juveniles in certain cases. Research shows that the brain does not fully develop until mid-20s, and that young people are more vulnerable to peer pressure and impulsive behaviour. The SPLC report states that “incarcerating youth has many consequences” including increased risk of recidivism, an exacerbation mental illnesses, less success in education and gainful employment, and a higher likelihood of recidivism upon release. Nearly 70 people who were juveniles in Mississippi are still being held 20 years later. The oldest is 67. The annual cost to taxpayers of incarcerating these people is $1.2 million. SPLC claims that the state could reinvest this money in ways that assist people to reenter society and achieve success, such as counseling and job training.