The New Parole Laws Just Aren’t Working

According to Mississippi Today, one year after a law expanded parole eligibility to more people incarcerated in Mississippi prisons, the state’s parole grant rate has declined by more than a third, a sign criminal justice reform advocates say show the law isn’t being fully implemented. Senate Bill 2795, known as the Mississippi Earned Parole Eligibility Act, became law in July 2021 with the goal of giving more people the opportunity to be heard by the Mississippi Parole Board and potentially be released from prison. As a result, about 5,700 additional people are expected to become parole eligible within the next five years, according to an estimate in the Corrections and Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force’s January report., a criminal justice and immigration reform group, supported SB 2795. Once the law was implemented, results were encouraging; the parole grant rate climbed and the prison population rate declined to its lowest point in more than 20 years, the governor said. By November 2021, the parole grant rate reached a high of 93% and the board held over 1,000 parole hearings, according to numbers from the Mississippi Department of Corrections obtained by Mississippi Today. But soon after, parole rates and hearings began dropping each month. In July 2022, the most recent data available, the grant rate was 40% and the board held 633 hearings.

What are the Parole Rates as of Now?

“Parole grant rates have fallen by more than half, reducing the incentives of people in Mississippi’s prisons to participate in programs and prepare to safely reenter society,” State Director Alesha Judkins said in a statement to Mississippi Today. Judkins said parole is an evidence-based policy that gives people second chances, reunites them with their families and community and curbs taxpayer spending. It is also a way to address Mississippi’s long prison sentence.

Who is Eligible for Parole in Mississippi?

Generally, a person can become eligible for parole after serving a certain amount of time on their sentence and having been convicted of a crime that is parole eligible. Under SB 2795, those convicted of nonviolent crimes and non-habitual drug offenses committed after June 30, 1995 must serve either 25% of their sentence or 10 years before becoming parole eligible. Those who committed a violent crime must serve half their sentence or 20 years, and people convicted of robbery with a deadly weapon, a drive-by shooting or carjacking must serve 60% of sentence or 25 years. People who have reached the age of 60 and served at least 10 years of their sentence for a parole-eligible crime can also receive it. Capital offenses, murder, drug trafficking, sex crimes and being a habitual offender are among the crimes in the state that are not eligible for parole.

Under SB 2795, a parole hearing date shall be set when a person is within 30 days of their parole eligibility date. Parole Board Chair Jeffery Belk said there is a misunderstanding that a parole eligibility date means automatic release or sentence reduction. He said he often gets emails from family members of incarcerated people asking why they haven’t been released. Newly-parole eligible people have had hearing, Belk said, but some may not be ready for release because they have not had access to programs such as skills and job training to succeed outside of prison.

What Should an Offender do if They are Charged with a Crime with the Possibility of Being Incarcerated?

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