What residents should know about Mississippi’s habitual offender law

| Jun 3, 2021 | Criminal Law |

Mississippi has one of the most severe habitual offender laws in the nation. Under these laws, many residents end up serving long sentences for non-violent crimes such as drug possession.

Review these facts about the habitual offender law if you or a loved one faces criminal prosecution in Mississippi.

Terms of the habitual offender law

The law in Mississippi applies to people who have served at least one year in prison for each of two prior felony offenses. The court can give these individuals an enhanced sentence that often results in life in prison regardless of the severity of the third offense. The enhanced sentence is the maximum possible penalty for the crime in question.

People sentenced under the habitual offender law also lose chances to participate in programs for sentence suspension, sentence reduction, parole and probation. Last year, the Mississippi legislature failed to pass House Bill 1024, which proposed to restrict habitual offender sentencing only to individuals who have received a third felony conviction in 15 years. It also would have given some people the opportunity for parole after meeting certain requirements.

Disproportionate impact

According to a report by the Clarion-Ledger, many of the individuals serving long sentences under the habitual offender law are senior citizens who have a low risk of reoffending. In fact, people ages 65 and older comprise 6% of the Mississippi prison population. The state also disproportionately applies this law to Black residents, particularly men.

The expense of imprisoning these individuals comes at a dramatic cost to the state’s infrastructure and programs. Facing a third felony offense in Mississippi can result in long prison terms for nonviolent residents.