Efforts to improve the criminal justice system continue in a number of states that are in session. Mississippi is one of the most active, as both the House and Senate have passed different versions of a number of smart bills, sending them to conference committee.
A few of the bills being discussed are designed to give former offenders a second chance, and better opportunity to reintegrate with society, and contribute.
House Bill 658 will allow individuals who have been arrested for drug offenses to apply for expungement, which offers a chance for them to seal records if they have not reoffended. Expungement is a very basic pillar of a justice system that offers incentive for good behavior, and learning from one’s mistakes.
Something as ordinary as having identification can be a challenge for people who have served their time and are being released. HB 838 permits ex-offenders to use Department of Corrections documents as qualifying papers to obtain a driver’s license.
SB 2759 will update the state’s “Fresh Start Act,” which bars occupational licensing boards from using broad “moral character” provisions that blanket ban people with a criminal record from work. Similarly, SB 2112 will prohibit public employers from using criminal history as a preliminary bar for employment. If someone’s crime is directly related to a profession, that is reason to restrict them from working in that profession, but open-ended bans do not serve public safety.
Other bills being discussed are aimed at making more inmates eligible for parole after having served a certain amount of time. SB 2123 will allow individuals to be considered for parole after serving 25 percent of their sentence for a nonviolent offense and 50 percent for a violent offense. HB 1476 will make inmates with certain medical conditions eligible for parole.
House and Senate conference committees will have to agree on the final bills.
With smart criminal justice reform bills, Mississippi has the opportunity to improve public safety by better reintegrating former offenders, safely reduce the state’s prison population, and save taxpayer dollars.