Analysis: Push to revise parole survives despite gov's veto

Mississippi's 65th governor Tate Reeves | Source: Tate Reeves/Facebook

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves killed a bill but not an idea when he vetoed the Mississippi Correctional Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2020, which would have made more inmates eligible for the possibility of parole.

Posted: Aug 30, 2020 8:45 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves killed a bill but not an idea when he vetoed the Mississippi Correctional Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2020, which would have made more inmates eligible for the possibility of parole.

Advocates for criminal justice changes are still saying Mississippi needs to ease the moral and financial burden of a prison system that is the subject of multiple lawsuits over safety and sanitation and that is under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department.

The push for change is coming from groups across the political spectrum, including the liberal Poor People's Campaign and the libertarian Mississippi Center for Public Policy.

In an email last week, the Center for Public Policy wrote about Mississippi habitual-offender laws that keep people imprisoned for years. It cited the case of Tameka Drummer, who received a life sentence in 2008 after she was pulled over for an expired license plate in Alcorn County and officers found a small amount of marijuana in her car. Drummer was sentenced as a habitual offender because of previous convictions.

“Multiple bills that would have impacted habitual offender laws did not make it past the finish line this session and another bill that would have reformed parole for up to 2,000 prisoners was vetoed by Gov. Tate Reeves," the center wrote. “That shouldn’t be the last word. We know much needs to be done.”

The Republican governor wrote in his July 8 veto message that he had received calls from law enforcement officers and prosecutors concerned about the release of inmates with violent histories.

“While the spirit of Senate Bill 2123 is well-intentioned, I believe the scope of its proposed expansion of parole eligibility presents problems that have not been fully considered by all stakeholders and as drafted would threaten public safety,” Reeves wrote.

Mississippi has one of the highest incarceration rates in the U.S., and the Justice Department announced its investigation in February, weeks after outbursts of violence led to the death and injury of several inmates. More than 70 inmates have died in Mississippi prisons since late December.

During an Aug. 20 news conference, representatives from the Poor People’s Campaign and other groups sharply criticized Reeves for vetoing the parole bill.

Alesha Judkins is the Mississippi director of FWD.us, a group that published a report last year saying that Mississippi's habitual offender laws are causing “extreme” prison sentences. Judkins said Aug. 20 that the vetoed bill would have brought Mississippi in line with states such as Texas, Utah and Louisiana that have broad parole eligibility.

“The governor’s claim that the bill goes too far and eliminates protections are misleading,” Judkins said.

She said Parole Board members, who are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate, would consider statements from crime victims.

“As we all know, parole eligibility makes prisons safer by restoring incentives and hope to people serving long sentences behind bars,” Judkins said.

FWD.us was formed in 2013 by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and other technology and business executives. The group says on its website that it focuses on “fixing the failed immigration and criminal justice systems that have locked too many out of the American dream for too long.”

Senate Bill 2123, which passed with bipartisan support, said people convicted of nonviolent offenses could become eligible for parole after serving 25% of their sentence. Those convicted of violent offenses and sentenced between July 1, 1995, and June 30, 2014, would have become eligible for parole after completing 50% of their sentence or after 20 years, whichever comes first.

The bill would have allowed people convicted of most violent offenses after July 1, 2014, to become parole-eligible after serving 50% of their sentence served or after 30 years, whichever is less. The bill also would have allowed parole hearings for those 65 and older who have served 10 years of their sentences. Habitual offenders, sex offenders and inmates sentenced for capital murder would not have been eligible for parole.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 319115

Reported Deaths: 7353
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22246264
Hinds20612421
Harrison18342316
Rankin13855282
Jackson13666248
Madison10213224
Lee10050176
Jones8452167
Forrest7810153
Lauderdale7253242
Lowndes6488149
Lamar632288
Lafayette6295120
Washington5412136
Bolivar4833133
Panola4659110
Oktibbeha465898
Pearl River4591146
Marshall4571105
Warren4436121
Pontotoc424573
Union415576
Monroe4154135
Neshoba4059179
Lincoln4007111
Hancock385187
Leflore3514125
Tate342386
Sunflower339391
Pike3366110
Alcorn323272
Scott319274
Yazoo313971
Adams304785
Itawamba304777
Copiah299666
Coahoma298283
Simpson297889
Tippah291168
Prentiss283361
Leake271674
Marion271280
Covington266683
Wayne264442
Grenada264087
George251851
Newton248563
Tishomingo230867
Winston229881
Jasper222048
Attala214973
Chickasaw210459
Holmes190374
Clay187454
Stone187233
Tallahatchie179941
Clarke178980
Calhoun173732
Yalobusha167740
Smith164034
Walthall135147
Greene131633
Lawrence131024
Montgomery128643
Noxubee127934
Perry126638
Amite125942
Carroll122330
Webster115032
Tunica107927
Jefferson Davis107633
Claiborne102930
Benton102225
Humphreys97533
Kemper96628
Franklin84923
Quitman81816
Choctaw79018
Wilkinson69332
Jefferson66228
Sharkey50817
Issaquena1696
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 547323

Reported Deaths: 11266
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson808021563
Mobile41925826
Madison35600522
Tuscaloosa26136458
Shelby25554254
Montgomery25067610
Baldwin21774313
Lee16234175
Calhoun14692325
Morgan14614285
Etowah14132361
Marshall12443230
Houston10748287
Elmore10295212
Limestone10180157
St. Clair10146250
Cullman9921200
Lauderdale9582248
DeKalb8955189
Talladega8441184
Walker7318279
Autauga7215113
Blount6925139
Jackson6900113
Colbert6394139
Coffee5616126
Dale4928114
Russell454441
Chilton4461116
Franklin430683
Covington4263122
Tallapoosa4117154
Escambia400280
Chambers3715123
Dallas3604156
Clarke352861
Marion3231106
Pike313978
Lawrence3121100
Winston283372
Bibb267364
Geneva256981
Marengo250565
Pickens236562
Barbour234559
Hale226578
Butler223371
Fayette217162
Henry193843
Cherokee187245
Randolph186844
Monroe179141
Washington170339
Macon163051
Clay159559
Crenshaw155057
Cleburne152543
Lamar145837
Lowndes141953
Wilcox127030
Bullock124242
Conecuh112930
Coosa111129
Perry108726
Sumter105732
Greene93434
Choctaw61725
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