Parole eligibility set to expand in Mississippi under new law

Published: Jun. 30, 2021 at 8:05 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Thousands of Mississippi prisoners will soon be eligible for parole because of a new state law.

Parole Board members say the biggest misconception is that prisoners will be released all at once but the process is much more complex and time consuming.

We observed as the board asked questions of an offender Wednesday, ranging from who he’d live with if released, to whether he’d had any rule violations while incarcerated.

“In Matthew 25, the scripture talks about the 2nd coming of the Lord and how he’s going to separate the sheep from the goats,” said Parole Board chairman Steve Pickett. “Well, what we’re trying to do is pick out a few sheep amongst a lot of goats. And we’re looking for those that won’t be a threat to the public and those that have a good re-entry plan.”

Pickett says the law change will make around 4,000 offenders eligible for parole. Sex offenders, habitual offenders and those that have committed capital offenses won’t be seen.

“The primary changes will be non-violent drug offenses. House burglary and manslaughter are cases that the parole board, until July 1, have not seen,” added Pickett.

“I think a lot of the phone calls we receive get people so excited when they hear, ‘Oh, they passed a new law and this is going to happen.’ And that’s not necessarily applying to them,” said board member Betty Lou Jones. “So, we take each one individually.”

Many of those who pushed for parole reform referenced the cost savings to the state taxpayers, but board member Jim Cooper says that won’t play into their decisions.

“The money that it takes to incarcerate someone is never a factor. We look at who they are, what they’ve done, why they’re where they are, what they’re likely to do when they get out. That’s more important than the dollar that it costs.”

And just because it seems an offender should be eligible based on time served doesn’t mean they’ll automatically be granted parole.

“You’d be surprised how often young people especially can’t meet the standards because they have telephones,” described board member Nehemiah Flowers, Jr. “They’ll sneak in or various and sundry items they’re not supposed to have. So, they can’t be paroled.”

A lack of a re-entry plan is another common limiting factor according to board members who say offenders often don’t have anywhere to go if released.

The board’s current case load involves seeing around 800 people a month and they expect for the next six months or so that could increase to around 1,800.

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