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Legislative Black Caucus Drafting Bills to Reform Prison Sys

Legislative Black Caucus Drafting Bills to Reform Prison System
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Protesters Outside State Capitol for Roc Nation Rally, Jan, 25.
AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Members of Mississippi's Legislative Black Caucus are drafting bills focused on prison reform. As MPB's Desare Frazier reports, one member talks about the stress on the system.

Violence at state prisons and at least 13 deaths recently spotlight the need to reform Mississippi's prison system. House Democrat Robert Johnson of Natchez is with the state's legislative black caucus. He says they're drafting a bill to have the state parole board evaluate non-violent offenders who could be released.

"And the numbers between 5 and 6,000 people who are either eligible for parole, serving a sentence of less than two to three years for a non-violent or drug offense and people who are juveniles charged as adults who've been in prison probably ten years," said Johnson.

Johnson says reducing the inmate population of more than 19,000 by 2,500 would take some stress off the under funded, understaffed system. He says a bill to change the law requiring non-violent offenders complete 85 percent of their sentence is in the works, which could give judges flexibility in sentencing.

"Now it's like 'oh you committed a crime, I'd like to let you go home, I'd believe you'd do right, but the law says you have to serve 85 percent of your sentence before you can go home,'" said Johnson.

The habitual offender rule is another law Johnson wants to end. He says some people are serving 20 year sentences after three arrests for possession of marijuana. House Republican John Read of Gautier chairs the Appropriations Committee. He expects to get appropriation bills to address the prison crisis.

"I think it's going to be an overhaul of our correction system both physically, financially, but I have no idea what the numbers are because no one has given the roadmap to how we're going to do this yet," said Read.

The process has already begun to move some inmates from Parchman to the Walnut Grove facility.