JACKSON, MS – Today FWD.us released a research brief that outlines the significant and sustained damage habitual sentencing laws are having on Mississippi families and communities.
We All Pay: Mississippi’s Harmful Habitual Laws details how the state’s current incarceration crisis is driven by habitual laws that add years, decades, or even life sentences to prison terms. One in three Mississippians in prison today who have been sentenced with a habitual penalty has been sentenced to more than 20 years in prison, and nearly 250 of those individuals were convicted for nonviolent offenses.
“My stepson is one of the thousands of people serving an unjust habitual sentence in Mississippi’s prisons,” said Patsy Houser of her stepson, Paul, who is serving a 60 year habitual sentence for a drug crime. “We don’t get to see Paul often, because he is incarcerated hours away from us. We’ve missed Paul every day of the 14 years he’s been gone, and we urge lawmakers to pass a bill that will bring him home.”
“Too many families like the Housers have been torn apart by Mississippi’s senselessly harsh habitual laws,” said FWD.us Mississippi State Director Alesha Judkins. “These laws don’t make Mississippi communities safer and are one of the primary reasons the state has the second-highest rate of imprisonment in the nation. This legislative session, lawmakers must prioritize reforms to the state’s harmful habitual laws.”
A growing body of research indicates long prison sentences are not an effective way to keep communities safe. Public opinion research in the state also favors making bold reforms to the state’s habitual laws. Polling shows the vast majority of Mississippi voters believe people convicted of nonviolent offenses should be eligible for opportunities like probation and parole, which are not currently available to people serving habitual sentences.
- Too many people are serving far too long in prison because of the state’s habitual laws. Of the more than 2,600 people in prison today who have been sentenced with a habitual penalty, one-third (906 people) have been sentenced to more than 20 years in prison. Nearly half of that group (439 people) has been sentenced to a life or virtual life sentence of 50 years or more.
- Decades-long sentences are routinely handed down for minor offenses in Mississippi. Nearly 250 people are serving 20+ year habitual penalties for nonviolent offenses. The majority of people serving these very long sentences for nonviolent offenses were convicted of drug-related crimes.
- Habitual penalties are costing taxpayers hundreds of millions in unnecessary spending. By looking at just a small group of those sentenced to habitual penalties, the extraordinary expense of the policy becomes clear. The 78 people in prison serving life and virtual life habitual sentences for drug crimes alone were collectively sentenced to 4,668 years in prison at a cost of nearly $70 million to state taxpayers.