Task force meets to discuss progress and needs to advance Mississippi’s criminal justice reforms

MDOC Task Force

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) -There are continuing conversations about who’s getting locked up and for how long. The Corrections and Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force has been meeting for the last six years now. They aren’t the ones with the power to make changes but they are the ones asking lawmakers to keep the reforms from 2014 in focus.

The task force meetings aren’t typically as well attended as it was Friday. But because their work involves corrections and criminal justice, they’re under a new kind of microscope.

“It’s just very emotional and I think about this everyday," said Pamela Brown whose brother was recently released from custody. "My brother calls everyday.”

The group is charged with delivering recommendations to the legislature each year to keep the state on track with the goals of House Bill 585 that was signed into law in 2014. This year’s proposed recommendations include: continued investment in work force training and other reentry and recidivism reduction programs.

“If more people are going back in than are going in on revocation than are going in originally, then we’re failing those people we are putting on probation," explained Ninth Circuit District Attorney Ricky Smith. "We’re failing those who are on post release supervision. We’re not giving them the tools they need to be successful outside the prison facility.”

It’s a worry that family members share.

“Nobody wants to deal with them when they get out and they mind is messed up from being treated like animals and whatnot while they’re incarcerated,” added Hynefa Jones.

The task force is suggesting items that would both change who’s being locked up and for how long. Some advocates say they’re on board with those changes.

“I want you to know that we are here to be an ally," said Mississippi Prison Reform Coalition member Sharon Brown. "But we are going to put pressure on the legislature and anybody who don’t want to see a change coming.”

Others wanted to ensure their voices were heard, despite the task force telling them they too were only making recommendations for laws to be changed.

Task force members say they do believe the criminal justice reforms are working. But some say it’s frustrating that the legislature has not yet reinvested the savings back into the system.

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