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Advocates Applaud Criminal Justice Bill, But More Reforms Ne

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Advocates Applaud Criminal Justice Bill, But More Reforms Needed
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Rep. Jason White in House Chamber
Desare Frazier

Criminal justice advocates in Mississippi are applauding legislators for passing a reform bill that's designed to keep more people out of prison. The measure is headed to the governor's desk for his signature. But as MPB's Desare Frazier reports, one group says more must be done.

Under the Mississippi Criminal Justice Reform Act failure to pay fines on time for non-violent offenses wouldn't automatically result in someone losing their driver's license. Not showing up for a court date or simple possession of drugs wouldn't automatically mean a license suspension either. House Republican Jason White of West helped craft the bill.

"This was about helping folks get back on track after they've made a mistake, helping them remain employable. If a person doesn't have a driver's license in this state they probably can't even get to work and then if they can get to work, if part of their requirements is to drive a vehicle, they can't do it," said White.

The bill turns drug and mental health courts into Intervention Courts, which will provide treatment to help people avoid incarceration. Court costs are waived for those who can't afford it. Beth Orlansky with Mississippi Center for Justice supports the legislation which helps people remove certain offenses from their records including those who haven't been convicted of crimes.

"Someone's arrested but not taken to trial or if they are found not guilty, then the arrest and the process is still on their record. Many times people don't know it's on their record until they apply for a job," said Orlansky.

Jennifer Riley Collins with the American Civil Liberties Union applauds the bi-partisan bill. But she supported a bail reform bill lawmakers didn't pass.

"We incarcerate in county jails 12,000 people in the State of Mississippi on a daily basis. Fifty-six percent of those are sitting in jail because they are too poor to pay the bail," said Collins.

Governor Phil Bryant is expected to sign the legislation.