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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.

Cases: 473413

Reported Deaths: 9214
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison32339474
Hinds30703575
DeSoto29814346
Jackson23263336
Rankin21111358
Lee14600217
Madison14043265
Jones13165218
Forrest12953233
Lauderdale11418297
Lowndes10249175
Lamar10048128
Pearl River8737209
Lafayette8078136
Hancock7324111
Washington6837147
Oktibbeha6820118
Neshoba6404201
Monroe6372158
Warren6326161
Pontotoc610393
Panola6071124
Bolivar6016143
Marshall5972118
Union564086
Pike5491133
Lincoln5232130
Alcorn520888
George457868
Scott451993
Leflore4401140
Prentiss437276
Itawamba436198
Tippah436180
Simpson4268111
Copiah425586
Wayne424863
Tate4234100
Adams4219114
Yazoo415886
Sunflower4088104
Covington407391
Marion4032100
Leake393185
Coahoma388198
Newton364474
Grenada3517101
Stone345657
Tishomingo324888
Attala321185
Jasper310262
Winston300391
Clay288273
Chickasaw282164
Clarke277487
Calhoun259739
Holmes259485
Smith243947
Yalobusha216747
Tallahatchie215649
Walthall205557
Greene204045
Lawrence203831
Perry196453
Amite193751
Webster191941
Noxubee174538
Montgomery169853
Jefferson Davis165541
Carroll159937
Tunica148434
Benton139433
Kemper137439
Claiborne125634
Choctaw124925
Humphreys123337
Franklin115227
Quitman101825
Wilkinson99835
Jefferson86632
Sharkey62120
Issaquena1916
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 768301

Reported Deaths: 13209
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1093481727
Mobile699891179
Madison48418589
Baldwin35707452
Shelby35193291
Tuscaloosa33029512
Montgomery32582664
Lee21908204
Calhoun20140377
Morgan19351318
Etowah18583433
Marshall17272259
Houston16139353
St. Clair14956276
Limestone14129180
Cullman14069235
Elmore14010245
Lauderdale13128272
Talladega12399215
DeKalb11890229
Walker10231312
Autauga9493127
Blount9418149
Jackson9115136
Coffee8646161
Colbert8324169
Dale8284159
Escambia6456106
Tallapoosa6394168
Covington6313157
Chilton6243133
Russell591654
Franklin563597
Chambers5240132
Marion4628115
Dallas4626178
Clarke451471
Pike450091
Geneva4252106
Winston407987
Lawrence4046102
Bibb396177
Barbour338968
Marengo320981
Monroe311547
Butler309783
Pickens298769
Randolph294055
Henry293856
Hale286081
Cherokee279850
Fayette272271
Washington243545
Crenshaw232265
Clay221561
Macon214454
Cleburne209748
Lamar187839
Conecuh177139
Lowndes169056
Coosa163631
Wilcox154335
Bullock147142
Perry134235
Sumter123335
Greene119241
Choctaw72325
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