Mississippi governor signs bill to expand parole eligibility

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JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – On Thursday, Governor Tate Reeves signed a criminal justice reform bill. Senate Bill 2795 will expand parole eligibility and opportunities for reentry programs. Currently, 6,000 individuals are serving sentences that are not eligible for a parole hearing.

The governor released the following statement on social media:

Criminal Justice reform. It means a lot of different things to different people. A measured approach to 2nd chances is good – a knee-jerk reaction can harm public safety. My #1 focus in these troubling times will always be to protect MS communities.

That’s why I vetoed legislation last year that went too far. But I also led the charge in 2014 to pass HB585. On the federal level, President Trump pushed for and signed the First Step Act.

SB2795 passed the Legislature this year by wide margins in both chambers. I have many good friends that strongly support it….likewise I have many good friends that are adamant in their opposition.

This bill expands parole eligibility for some – but it does not guarantee it! And not all are eligible – we were able to ensure 1st and 2nd degree murderers can’t get it.

Non-violents are eligible at 25% but committing a crime while armed gets you at least 60% of your sentence. And no one gets out JUST because they are older. Maybe best of all, habitual offenders are not included in this bill.

My conservative friends that voted against this bill did so based on valid concerns. I share many of them which led to last year’s veto –

I also believe in 2nd chances. I trust my Parole Board appointees to make wise decisions. SB2795 was not an easy call for me. But, at the end of the day, I believe it meets my standard for a measured approach, & with proper implementation, it can be a net positive for MS.

Therefore I signed SB2795 into law earlier today. May God bless Mississippi!

Gov. Tate Reeves, R-Miss.

On March 30, the Senate voted 35-13 and the House voted 91-27 to pass the final version of the bill.

Reeves vetoed two criminal justice bills last year, including one that would have expanded parole eligibility. He said prosecutors and law enforcement officials told him the 2020 parole bill would create a risk of release for violent inmates.

A key difference is that this year’s bill would not allow parole consideration for anyone convicted of first degree or second degree murder, said Senate Corrections Committee Chairman Juan Barnett, who authored the bill.

Current Mississippi law also says a person convicted of a nonviolent crime must serve at least 25% of the sentence before becoming eligible for a parole hearing. Senate Bill 2795 says that for nonviolent crimes committed after June 30, 1995, an inmate would have to serve at least 25% or 10 years before the possibility of a parole hearing. A person with a 60-year sentence could get a parole hearing after 15 years under current law and after 10 years under the proposed change.

People convicted of some crimes would remain ineligible for parole. Those crimes include murder, human trafficking, drug trafficking and many sex crimes.

Mississippi has one of the highest incarceration rates in the United States.

The bill will become law on July 1, 2021.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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