FWD.us, a criminal-justice reform organization, says it is "heartened" by small reforms Mississippi leaders like Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves have made in recent years, but is is urging a focus on cutting down "extreme" sentencing laws.
'Extreme' Prison Terms Must Be Focus for New Mississippi Leaders, Reformers Say By Ashton Pittman
Mississippi's incoming class of statewide and legislative leaders should prioritize reducing "extremely" long prison sentences, a national bipartisan criminal-justice reform organizations says.
"Mississippi's criminal-justice system is in a pretty dire place and has been in a long time and appears to be moving, instead of in the right direction, in a worsening direction over the past several years," FWD.us Senior Criminal Justice Reform Director Zoe Towns told the Jackson Free Press late last month.
"Our focus has been that, as this transition of leadership occurs, to ensure that the issue is front of mind. We believe there are a lot of things that future governor could do if they are prioritizing criminal-justice reform."
Yesterday, FWD.us released a report concluding that "habitual" penalties are driving Mississippi's "incarceration crisis," as prosecutors give repeat offenders unusually long sentences for crimes like drug offenses. In many cases, that results in life sentences or "virtual life sentences," meaning sentences that are so long an inmate will likely die in prison.
The study found that more than 2,600 people are serving prison sentences with habitual penalties in Mississippi. Of those, about one-third are serving 20 years or more, and about one-sixth are serving either life or at least 50 years.
Local prosecutors can apply habitual sentences at their discretion—and they often do so in a way that disproportionately imprisons black men. Black adult men make up just 13% of the State's population, but account for more than 75% of the people in Mississippi prisons with 20 years or longer for habitual sentences.