Mississippi continues expanding prison reforms - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Mississippi continues expanding prison reforms

Unpaid fees and fines are one factor adding to the prison numbers in Mississippi. Source: WLBT Unpaid fees and fines are one factor adding to the prison numbers in Mississippi. Source: WLBT
Unpaid fees and fines are one factor adding to the prison numbers in Mississippi. Source: WLBT Unpaid fees and fines are one factor adding to the prison numbers in Mississippi. Source: WLBT
Unpaid fees and fines are one factor adding to the prison numbers in Mississippi. Source: WLBT Unpaid fees and fines are one factor adding to the prison numbers in Mississippi. Source: WLBT
JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

There's ongoing work to reform the criminal justice system in the state. The legislature passed broad reforms in the 2014 legislative session. The goal was to enhance certainty and clarify in sentencing and prioritize prison space for violent and career offenders.

Unpaid fees and fines are one factor adding to the prison numbers in Mississippi.

"We're not even talking about violent offenders," said CJ Rhodes, Clergy for Prison Reforms President. "These are non-violent offenders, folks who get pulled over for DUIs, drug possession. Again, we're not encouraging that kind of behavior, but we're saying if that happens, we don't want people wasting away in jail because they can't pay $50 or $150."

House Bill 387 has been signed into law by the Governor.

Starting July 1, judges will have options in those cases. For example, they may offer a payment plan or look at the individual circumstances of why the offender can't pay.

"Those little things like that actually help the bigger story again of making sure that we aren't taking people out of their families, out of their communities, their churches, over things they couldn't address in the first place," noted Rhodes. "If you're poor and going into the system, it's going to be hard for you to get out."

The ACLU is encouraged because they don't want people living in poverty to be criminalized for being poor.

"It's a huge community issue when you have people who are unable to pay speeding tickets and they end up in jail for a very lengthy amount of time, a life changing amount of time," explained Aisha Carson, ACLU of Mississippi Criminal Justice Reform Advocacy Coordinator. "And we've seen people lose their livelihood because of that. 387 to me, since 2014, is one of the biggest pieces of criminal justice reform legislation because it's going to completely put an end to that practice in Mississippi."

The law also requires a task force be set up to examine sentencing disparities in the state.

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