JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Mississippi leaders are again looking at options for how to put fewer people behind bars and explore other ways to address their problems. Clergy for Prison Reform is asking that the legislature take an even bigger step in that direction.
“Now is the time to do big criminal justice reform. Do it now," said Clergy for Prison Reform President Dr. CJ Rhodes. "Do not wait because it’s an election year. We need to make change happen in Mississippi.”
This isn’t a call for a total overhaul. It’s partly a celebration that the state has made steps towards criminal justice reform.
But the Clergy for Prison Reform says it can include more.
“The Senate bill that died actually would’ve done a lot, not just in terms of what happens to folks when they come out of prison," added Rhodes. "But on the front end. Like, why are they going to prison in the first place? Non-violent offenses... should you go to jail or prison for up to 20 years or what not?”
Something that House Bill 1352 does incorporate is the use of more “intervention courts”, which would provide alternative sentencing options for those whose issues could be better addressed in places other than prison - like mental health problems, for example.
The group is also asking that the mindset change about “re-entry.” They don’t want that conversation to start when it’s time for the offender to be released.
“As soon as the handcuffs are put on them, re-entry starts," explained Pauline Rogers. "And that process has to be rigorous throughout their incarceration period.”
Pauline Rogers can talk details about what happens behind the prison walls because she was once there and knows how the system works.
“They sit dormant or lay in the bed all day in prison, don’t expect them to get out here and they’re ready to do a 9 to 5," said Rogers. "It ain’t happening.”
The final piece the group wants to see added into the reform package is the restoration of voting rights for those who’ve already served their time.