JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Old habits are hard to break when it comes to Mississippi lawmakers’ desire to lock up criminals.
Two days after the state House passed House Bill 585, which aims to cut the number of state prisoners to save money, representatives voted 79-41 Wednesday to pass House Bill 63. It would limit the ability of violent offenders to get time off prison sentences after a second conviction.
Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune, said the bill could’ve prevented his aunt from being shot to death by a repeat offender. He and other supporters of the bill said people who commit a second violent crime after getting out of prison the first time haven’t learned their lessons and shouldn’t be able to earn time off.
“I don’t see how anyone in this chamber could be against this,” said Formby, the bill’s sponsor.
But the measure, which moves on to the Senate for more debate, is opposed by Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps. He said he wants legislators to make changes using the comprehensive bill.
“The commissioner wants changes to come through that package,” spokeswoman Grace Fisher said. “The package says violent offenders must serve a minimum of 50 percent of their sentence.”
The package was passed after months of research and debate by a task force of lawmakers, judges, prosecutors and others. Among the members was House Corrections Committee Chairman Tommy Taylor, R-Boyle, who helped advocate for HB 63.
The task force agreed that in addition to having violent offenders serve at least 50 percent of a sentence, people convicted of nonviolent offenses would have to serve at least 25 percent. The bills would give judges more flexibility to give alternative sentences, such as ordering treatment for drug users. They would also, for the first time in Mississippi law, specify which crimes are classified as violent, for sentencing purposes. And, they would strengthen requirements that victims be notified before an inmate is released from prison.
The plan is supposed to stop the growth in Mississippi’s prison population and save money, aiming to cut $266 million from prison budgets over the next 10 years.
Critics said Wednesday that HB 63 would undo some of the task force’s work.
“You all are eroding that bill by bringing forth this bill,” said Rep. Adrienne Wooten, D-Jackson.
Rep. Bill Kinkade, R-Byhalia, who was handling the bill, downplayed the conflict.
“I don’t feel like it will impact it a great deal,” Kinkade said.
Taylor said he wasn’t sure how many inmates the bill would apply to and Fisher wasn’t immediately able to estimate its effects.