In July 2020, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves vetoed two bills that addressed criminal justice reform. The debate over Mississippi’s overcrowded prisons has accelerated, leaving many bipartisan lawmakers to condemn the governor’s action.

Senate Bill 2123 and House Bill 658 addressed parole and expungement eligibility for convicted criminals.

Lawmakers’ bipartisan legislation

Senate Bill 2123 proposed changes to parole eligibility for many prisoners. The bill would have opened parole eligibility at 25% of sentence served for people convicted of non-violent offenses. Violent offenders convicted between June 30, 1994 and July 1, 2014 would be eligible at 50% of sentence served or 20 years, whichever is lower. For violent crimes after July 1, 2014, parole eligibility would occur at the lower of 50% sentence served or 30 years.

Lawmakers had hoped SB 2123 would help reduce the population of Mississippi’s overcrowded prisons, allowing the space to address other issues.

House Bill 658 introduced legislation to change Mississippi’s expungement laws. HB 658 would allow an individual up to three expungements for non-violent felonies. Currently, Mississippi law allows for one felony expungement. Gov. Reeves said, “We can’t have career criminals walking around with no records.” The governor consulted with the law enforcement community, which agreed with his position.

Not a partisan issue

Criminal justice group REFORM Alliance is calling on lawmakers to reconvene and overturn the veto. Their organization proposes that the bill would help reduce recidivism and encourage rehabilitation among Mississippi’s communities. The group also argued that the bills could save residents $45 million in taxes. Overturning a veto requires a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate.

Only two-thirds of the Republicans in the Mississippi Senate voted against the bill, supporting Governor Reeve’s insistence that partisanship did not motivate his veto. The governor claims the bills went too far and allowed too much leeway for career criminals. Reeves will listen if lawmakers attempt another version of the bills.

Consult with a legal professional

These new laws would have made around 2,000 prisoners eligible for parole. Those with questions about Mississippi parole, appealing a conviction or defending a criminal accusation can reach out to a local attorney familiar with criminal defense.

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