JACKSON, MS — FWD.us Mississippi State Director Alesha Judkins issued the following statement after new reports show Mississippi’s high rank in COVID-19 infection rates:
“As our nation works to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, our state government leaders must take bold actions to protect people currently incarcerated in our jails and prisons as they are one of our most vulnerable populations. Mississippi currently has the nation’s 12th highest COVID-19 infection rate, and now, more than ever, is the time for lawmakers to address Mississippi’s incarceration crisis, and reduce prison populations.
“People locked up in America’s jails and prisons generally have increased underlying chronic health issues, are unable to access even the most basic medical care, and cannot practice social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus. And, it’s no secret that most jails and prisons have struggled to meet very basic hygiene standards.
“Mississippi has relied on extreme sentencing for decades, resulting in an increasing elderly population in prisons – a population we know is among some of the most vulnerable to the virus.
“The Mississippi Legislature has advanced three pieces of critical criminal justice reform legislation, HB 1024, HB 1377, and SB 2123, which could safely reduce the state’s dangerously high prison population. These bills, which limit the state’s harmful habitual sentencing laws and expand parole eligibility, are more necessary than ever and crucial as we face a health pandemic that puts vulnerable people who are incarcerated at much higher risk for harm. It is our hope that when lawmakers return to the Capitol, they will continue to advance these bills. Until then, we hope state officials will use administrative powers like parole and commutation to successfully and safely reduce our prison population.
“FWD.us will continue to monitor this health emergency that places people who are incarcerated acutely at risk, and will be calling on Mississippi lawmakers and officials to take immediate actions.”
Recent data shows Mississippi has climbed up the list of the top imprisoning states, moving from number three to the second highest imprisoner in the nation. Mississippi’s incarceration crisis stems from decades of failed policies, including extreme sentencing due in part to the state’s habitual laws, inflexible parole laws, and more. And recent and continuing avoidable deaths at Parchman and across the Mississippi prison system further prove that bold criminal justice reform is needed in Mississippi.
Additionally, recent polling shows that 66% of likely voters, including 59% who identify as “very conservative,” believe elected officials should be working to reduce overcrowding in prisons and jails as a response to the coronavirus pandemic.