FWD.us Emphasizes the Urgent Need for Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform During 2021 Legislative Session

JACKSON, MS – FWD.us Mississippi State Director Alesha Judkins issued the following statement today addressing the beginning of the 2021 Mississippi Legislative Session:

“The start of the 2021 Mississippi legislative session represents a new opportunity for legislators to complete the work they began in 2020 to advance criminal justice reform. Last year, the legislature advanced two common sense bills to safely reduce the state’s dangerously high prison population by expanding parole and reforming the habitual penalties. One of those bills, SB 2123 that would have expanded parole eligibility, was vetoed by the Governor because of confusion and misinformation. The other, HB 1024, would have reformed habitual sentencing laws, but it died in conference as lawmakers adjourned and returned home to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In 2020, we saw the deaths of nearly 100 men and women inside Mississippi’s prisons. Men and women who could have been home with their families, such as Mr. Ronald Estelle, a 77 year old man who was serving a life sentence for a non-violent offense under the state’s habitual laws. Locking people up into old age or until they die without any opportunity for release does not keep anyone safer and undermines the value of redemption.

“Mississippi’s abysmal and deadly prison conditions drove the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice to launch a civil rights investigation into four state prison facilities this time last year. Alabama faced a similar investigation and resulting lawsuit that will cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Mississippi taxpayers can expect a similar outcome if the legislature does not act this legislative session to pass laws to address our ongoing incarceration crisis.

“The urgent need for criminal justice reform is also tied to the state budget. Mississippi taxpayers should not have to bear the burden of the $360 million spent each year on a broken–and far too often deadly–prison system, especially when those funds could go to support other programs that will ensure Mississippi communities have the resources they need to ensure public safety and promote economic growth.

“As lawmakers return to Jackson, they must hold front of mind that Mississippi has the second highest imprisonment rate in the nation. We urge them to make criminal justice reform a priority during the 2021 legislative session. It’s long past time for our state leaders to safely reduce Mississippi’s dangerously high prison population and prioritize the health and safety of everyone in the state.”

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