FWD.us Highlights Gains and Missed Opportunities for Criminal Justice Reform During 2020 Session, Shares Plans for Coming Year

JACKSON, MS – FWD.us Mississippi State Director Alesha Judkins issued the following statement today at the close of the 2020 Mississippi Legislative Session:

“The Mississippi Legislature took meaningful strides to advance criminal justice reform this session but those efforts came to a screeching halt when the governor vetoed a bill that could have safely reduced the state’s dangerously high prison population. Addressing the state’s prison crisis was a critical need this session, made all the more dire by the coronavirus pandemic, as the number of confirmed cases in state prisons continue to rise. From the start, this legislative session was marked by an unconscionable number of completely preventable deaths behind prison walls, punctuated by a U.S. Department of Justice civil rights investigation into the abysmal and deadly conditions of state prison facilities, and has ended without any enacted legislation to reduce the state’s alarmingly high prison population, putting thousands more Mississippians at risk.

“The state now has the second highest rate of imprisonment in the country, and the number of people behind bars continues to rise at a time when other states have taken smart steps to reduce crime and incarceration.

“Right now, Mississippi is in the midst of a dual crisis, with COVID-19 and incarceration draining critical resources from communities and claiming the lives of far too many Mississippians. The state’s taxpayers are spending upward of $360 million each year on the prison system, much of which is fueled by long prison sentences that do not make Mississippians safer or improve public safety. Eight in 10 Mississippi residents, including Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, believe it is important to reduce jail and prison populations. Criminal justice reform absolutely must be a priority next session for the legislature and the Governor, and legislators should hit the ground running in January to reduce Mississippi’s dangerously high prison population and make all of us safer.”

Earlier this year, FWD.us released a timeline that details Mississippi’s prison crisis from Parchman to COVID-19. The timeline illustrates the dramatic and escalating series of events that has gripped MDOC and the people in its custody since December 2019. However, the governor and Department leaders have done little to address these crises at a time when urgent action is desperately needed to address Mississippi’s incarceration crisis.

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