Report: Mississippi laws cause ‘extreme’ prison sentences

MGN Online

Are long prison sentences deterring crime in Mississippi?

Posted: Nov 19, 2019 1:32 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi’s habitual offender laws are causing “extreme” prison sentences that are disproportionally affecting African American men and are costing the state millions of dollars for decades of incarceration, according to a new report by a nonprofit advocacy group founded by technology and business executives.

The report released Tuesday by FWD.us — a group also known as Forward — says long prison sentences do not improve public safety.

“Deterrence, in the case of long sentences, is the idea that people will not commit crimes because they are scared of going to prison for a long time,” the report says. “But research shows that severe punishments do not increase public safety and don’t deter criminal behavior in the first place.”

Mississippi has the third-highest imprisonment rate among U.S. states, after Louisiana and Oklahoma, according to the Justice Department.

The FWD.us report is based on information from the Mississippi Department of Corrections. It says that in June, Mississippi had 2,635 inmates sentenced as habitual offenders. It says 906 of them were sentenced at least 20 years in prison, and nearly half of those — 439 — were sentenced to at least 50 years.

Under habitual offender laws, a person with previous convictions can face extra years in prison for conviction of an additional crime. The FWD.us report says enhanced penalties “can be used at the complete discretion of the prosecutor and can be applied to any offense, including minor crimes such as shoplifting or drug possession.”

The report says African American men make up 13% of Mississippi’s population but are 75% of those receiving sentences of at least 20 years.

“The list of crimes defined as ‘violent’ in Mississippi law is lengthy and includes some offenses that do not involve the use of force against a person, such as breaking into a garage,” the report says. “For example, a person could be sentenced to life in prison for marijuana possession if they had one prior conviction for stealing from a garage and one prior conviction for drug possession.”

The report is being released weeks ahead of a new Mississippi legislative session that begins in early January. The senior criminal justice reform director for FWD.us, Zoe Towns, told The Associated Press that the report is intended to spur discussion among lawmakers.

“It’s time to be a little bit more outraged by these kinds of stories,” Towns said. “It’s not normal to be sentencing people to 10 and 20 and 30 and 60 and 200 years — probably for anything, but certainly not for some of these offenses, which are not necessarily a public safety threat to anybody.”

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.”

Towns said FWD.us has worked with Republican leaders in Oklahoma on the recent commutation of sentences for more than 400 inmates — the largest single-day mass commutation in U.S. history. She said the organization has also worked with the Democratic governor of New York on changes to bail.

The report says the 78 Mississippi inmates serving sentences of at least 50 years for drug crimes were sentenced to a collective 4,668 years and they have already been imprisoned 1,108 years. At a cost of roughly $14,500 per year to house a person in prison in Mississippi, “state taxpayers have already spent over $16 million housing this group of just 78 people and their sentences would cost nearly $70 million if served in their entirety,” the report says.

Mississippi Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed a law in 2014 that was designed to make the state’s criminal justice system more efficient and less expensive. For the first time, it specified which crimes are classified as violent, for sentencing purposes. It gave judges more flexibility to impose alternate sentences, such as ordering treatment for drug users.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 115763

Reported Deaths: 3263
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7973177
DeSoto703979
Harrison522384
Jackson457884
Rankin394086
Madison383194
Lee357380
Forrest304678
Jones292484
Washington258399
Lafayette250443
Lauderdale2478135
Lamar225538
Oktibbeha202454
Bolivar201677
Neshoba1849111
Lowndes179962
Panola170040
Leflore167187
Sunflower162349
Warren154855
Monroe150673
Pontotoc147220
Marshall143129
Lincoln140157
Pike138456
Copiah137536
Scott125429
Coahoma124937
Grenada122638
Yazoo122234
Simpson121549
Union118825
Tate116839
Leake115041
Holmes114760
Itawamba113925
Pearl River113660
Adams108544
Prentiss106120
Wayne101722
Alcorn100112
George99218
Covington97527
Marion95042
Tippah90322
Newton86627
Chickasaw85526
Tallahatchie84526
Winston84121
Hancock84028
Tishomingo81241
Attala79426
Clarke75851
Clay69321
Jasper68717
Walthall63927
Calhoun62612
Noxubee59817
Smith59416
Montgomery54923
Yalobusha54514
Claiborne53716
Tunica53517
Lawrence51814
Perry49423
Carroll49312
Greene47818
Stone47514
Humphreys43816
Amite42513
Quitman4206
Jefferson Davis41011
Webster37613
Benton3416
Wilkinson33820
Kemper32615
Sharkey28514
Jefferson27610
Franklin2423
Choctaw2086
Issaquena1074
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 158701

Reported Deaths: 2680
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson23292377
Mobile16916315
Tuscaloosa10345140
Montgomery10250197
Madison935096
Shelby739063
Baldwin665869
Lee654665
Calhoun459961
Marshall439550
Etowah428551
Houston417034
Morgan416435
DeKalb342629
Elmore320853
St. Clair295542
Limestone287230
Walker279492
Talladega266435
Cullman248024
Lauderdale229442
Jackson215915
Autauga205931
Franklin205531
Colbert202132
Russell19493
Blount193225
Chilton188432
Dallas186627
Coffee177111
Dale176351
Covington174729
Escambia172730
Clarke135217
Chambers135044
Pike134113
Tallapoosa132987
Marion108129
Barbour10339
Marengo101922
Butler101140
Winston92913
Geneva9067
Lawrence85832
Pickens85218
Bibb84014
Randolph82716
Hale76830
Washington74912
Clay74412
Cherokee73814
Henry7176
Lowndes71328
Bullock64917
Monroe64610
Crenshaw60830
Perry5926
Fayette57713
Cleburne5698
Wilcox56812
Conecuh56113
Macon53620
Lamar4965
Sumter47221
Choctaw39212
Greene34216
Coosa2043
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