A bill that does away with debtor’s prison takes effect in Mississippi July 1, while another bill to reform the state’s criminal justice system awaits the governor’s signature or veto. MPB’s Desare Frazier reports.
Some Mississippi cities have been sued for putting people in jail regardless of their inability to pay traffic tickets, other fines and court costs. Governor Phil Bryant recently signed House Bill 387. Beginning July 1, a hearing must first be held to determine a person’s ability to pay. House Democrat Kabir Karriem of Columbus co-authored the bill.
"It gets rid of debtor's prison where individuals who can't pay their fines where they won't be automatically sent back to prison. It won't suspend drivers licenses and it's a lot of things in that bill that will help people," said Karriem.
The measure allows non-violent offenders who are not trafficking drugs or repeat violators to be eligible for parole after serving 25 percent of their sentence. House Republican Dan Eubanks of Walls supports the law.
"I think some people do need a second chance and if they've paid their debt to society for any kind of crime that they committed. We should give people the opportunity and the incentive to give them a second chance," said Eubanks.
Democratic Senator Juan Barnett of Forrest County authored a bill that would allow those arrested with a small amount of a controlled substance, such as marijuana, to pay a fine and avoid a driver's license suspension. SB 2841 would also allow model prisoners to petition the courts to have their sentences reduced and provide 90 day hardship waivers.
"A lot of their financial hardships still fall upon those families and sometimes the families aren't in financial shape to help them pay whatever it is they have to pay those probations officers so I think we need to grant them a little bit more time," said Barnett.
The governor's office says he will carefully review SB 2841 before making a decision.