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Analysis: Mississippi examines help for departing inmates

A Mississippi law that took effect July 1 expands parole eligibility, and lawmakers are looking at programs that could help people make the transition from prison back into the free world.

Posted: Sep 13, 2021 9:11 AM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi law that took effect July 1 expands parole eligibility, and lawmakers are looking at programs that could help people make the transition from prison back into the free world.

House and Senate committees met Wednesday at the state Capitol to gather ideas from several people, including prison and parole officials in Alabama, a leader of a nonprofit group that helps former inmates and an executive of a software company that coordinates services for people leaving prison.

One common theme in the presentations was that people who have been incarcerated fare better in the next phase of their lives if they they receive guidance in practical matters such as getting a driver's license, finding a place to live and finding a job.

“We need to make sure that we try to equip individuals with as much as we possibly can when they come back into society so they don't go back into the place they came from,” Senate Corrections Committee Chairman Juan Barnett, a Democrat from Heidelberg, told The Associated Press on Friday. “It's one of those things that we really, really need to tackle.”

House Corrections Committee Chairman Kevin Horan, a Republican from Grenada, said Friday that Mississippi needs to improve transitional housing for people leaving prison. He also said legislators also could consider creating reentry courts to provide supervision and guidance for departing inmates.

Jefferson Dunn, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections, told Mississippi lawmakers that his state develops a “programming plan” for each inmate who enters the prison system, with a goal of preparing them to leave when they are paroled or when they reach the end of their sentences.

“Reentry begins with entry,” Dunn said. “We have reworked our entry process to begin that process of reentry, whether it is three years or 30 years or longer, in the department. ... We want to begin from Day 1 to have inmates look towards reentry and view their time of incarceration as an opportunity and everything that they do to move them closer to reentry.”

Louise Wasilewski is CEO of Acivilate Inc., an Atlanta-based company whose software coordinates communication for what she calls “returning citizens” — people leaving prison. She said the company has contracts in other states, but not in Mississippi.

“We do really simple things like helping people sort out all the activities they have to do and sending them text reminders — just the same way that your dentist sends you a text reminder to make you show up," Wasilewski said. She said such reminders could be used before probation hearings, for example, with the goal of keeping a person from returning to prison.

Mississippi lawmakers also heard from Kerri Pruitt, executive director of the Dannon Project. The nonprofit group was founded in 1999 in Birmingham, Alabama, and it is named for Pruitt's brother-in-law, who was killed by a man who had been released from prison.

Pruitt said the Dannon Project is active in Alabama and South Carolina, working on “holistic reentry services,” including help with health care, behavioral health services, transportation, housing and court appearances.

“We don’t believe in allowing any of our participants in attending court alone, even when they have a court-appointed attorney," Pruitt said.

Cam Ward, director of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles, said state governments need to ensure they use reentry programs that are data-driven with a record of being effective. He said groups outside government can provide valuable help.

“The notion that somehow, some way as a state government you’re going to have enough resources to provide all the proper reentry and diversion programs is just not true," said Ward, a former Alabama state senator. "You’re going to have to have partners.”

The next Mississippi legislative session is set to begin in early January. Barnett said some lawmakers could gather in November or December to discuss whether to file bills that would propose specific types of reentry programs.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 498560

Reported Deaths: 9939
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34150535
DeSoto31916399
Hinds31878624
Jackson24352379
Rankin21928388
Lee15450235
Madison14547279
Jones13789241
Forrest13428250
Lauderdale11944315
Lowndes10966185
Lamar10491135
Pearl River9454237
Lafayette8462138
Hancock7703126
Washington7371157
Oktibbeha7118130
Monroe6740174
Warren6656176
Pontotoc6620102
Neshoba6613206
Panola6466131
Marshall6398132
Bolivar6268146
Union596794
Pike5794152
Alcorn5646101
Lincoln5421134
George494979
Scott471198
Tippah466081
Prentiss464881
Leflore4631144
Itawamba4605105
Adams4577119
Tate4553109
Copiah445692
Simpson4423116
Yazoo440386
Wayne438572
Covington427894
Marion4222107
Sunflower4217104
Coahoma4127104
Leake407687
Newton381079
Grenada3700108
Stone358764
Tishomingo358091
Attala330589
Jasper328565
Winston313491
Clay306775
Chickasaw297867
Clarke290694
Calhoun278145
Holmes267287
Smith262450
Yalobusha232847
Tallahatchie225851
Walthall217763
Greene216048
Lawrence211440
Perry204855
Amite204055
Webster201845
Noxubee185940
Montgomery179356
Jefferson Davis170942
Carroll168238
Tunica159039
Benton147538
Kemper141341
Choctaw133026
Claiborne131637
Humphreys129038
Franklin119128
Quitman106328
Wilkinson104539
Jefferson94234
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 814363

Reported Deaths: 15179
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1141131910
Mobile722941323
Madison52048686
Shelby37315341
Baldwin37098540
Tuscaloosa34973599
Montgomery33996725
Lee23158240
Calhoun22168470
Morgan20675372
Etowah19770496
Marshall18258300
Houston17314405
St. Clair15924337
Cullman15333290
Limestone15239198
Elmore15095284
Lauderdale14163294
Talladega13728272
DeKalb12575259
Walker11096366
Blount10104174
Autauga9904146
Jackson9795180
Coffee9182189
Dale8866181
Colbert8794200
Tallapoosa7045195
Escambia6747127
Covington6688179
Chilton6595160
Russell626358
Franklin5936105
Chambers5562142
Marion4960126
Dallas4897199
Clarke473482
Pike4721105
Geneva4564126
Winston4478101
Lawrence4269117
Bibb421786
Barbour356075
Marengo334189
Monroe330662
Randolph327763
Butler324894
Pickens314082
Henry311265
Hale309487
Cherokee300557
Fayette291079
Washington251151
Cleburne247058
Crenshaw243775
Clay240867
Macon230762
Lamar218146
Conecuh185752
Coosa179038
Lowndes174161
Wilcox167838
Bullock151744
Perry138040
Sumter131138
Greene125844
Choctaw87027
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