JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Mississippi is taking more steps to reform the criminal justice system and reduce the number of people behind bars.
“If people don’t believe Mississippi can be innovative, let them look to criminal justice reforms,” said Governor Phil Bryant.
This latest bill that will become law July 1st, it’s main focus is helping offenders re-enter society.
“I just know that there are people out there who have committed non-violent crimes that need a second chance on life,” said Sen. Juan Barnett.
One way the state will give that second chance is with alternative sentencing through mental health, veteran and drug courts.
“We’re spending too much money on incarceration in the state of Mississippi," explained MDOC Commissioner Pelicia Hall. "So, if we can have people that are diverted from our prison system, getting the benefit and advantage of intervention courts, I think it’s going to be very important.”
The law will also remove existing roadblocks for offenders trying to get back on their feet.
“There are a couple of big pieces that are going to impact tens of thousands of Mississippians on day one," noted Empower Mississippi Director of Employability and Criminal Justice Reform James Robertson. "The bill helps more people keep their drivers licenses. Right now, Mississippians can lose their drivers license for any drug conviction, no matter how minor.”
It will also expand the non-violent offenses eligible for expungement. And finally will give offenders the boost they need to get back on their feet.
“Now, people who were convicted of drug offenses can now receive SNAP and TANF benefits, workforce training, and all of those things that they were denied because Mississippi was one of three states that had a lifetime ban on those individuals,” said Sen. Barnett.
“This is not the final step in this program," added Governor Bryant. "You will see new opportunities with our community colleges, new opportunities in workforce development, new opportunities at a federal level very soon that will continue the work that Mississippi began.”
Some of the other bills Bryant signed Wednesday morning include the School Safety Act of 2019, Landowners Protection Act and the Tourism Promotion Act.