JACKSON, MS – FWD.us Mississippi State Director Alesha Judkins issued the following statement today in response to the passage of Senate Bill (SB) 2795 and the failure of House Bill (HB) 796:
“Many Mississippians and their families can now take a breath of relief as the prospect of being reunited becomes more of a reality. After decades of driving up incarceration through laws that increased sentence lengths and decreased opportunities for release, the Mississippi Legislature, with overwhelming support from lawmakers in both chambers and both parties, took a long overdue and urgently needed step in the right direction on criminal justice reform. SB 2795 begins what will need to be many more years of work to reform the state’s restrictive parole laws – laws that have not made our communities any safer and that have torn apart countless families and communities.
“For nearly two years, lawmakers debated solutions to address the state’s deadly imprisonment crisis that has claimed more than 120 lives since December 2019. We commend the many lawmakers in both parties – in particular, Representatives Nick Bain and Kevin Horan and Senators Juan Barnett, Daniel Sparks, and Brice Wiggins – for their deliberative work to advance policies with input from criminal justice system stakeholders including law enforcement and prosecutors, judges, and advocates, as well as with their peers in the Legislature and with the Governor’s office.
“The cost of inaction and delay is far too high. SB 2795 came too late to save the dozens of people who were not eligible for parole and died in prison since legislators started working on these reforms. We are also devastated that, for the second year in a row, legislators failed to pass reforms to the state’s harmful habitual sentencing laws. After securing majority support on multiple votes in the House and Senate, House Bill 796 died today before it could come up for a final vote. Inaction on habitual laws mean that individuals like Tameka Drummer, who is serving a habitual life sentence for marijuana possession, and Paul Houser, who is serving a 60 year habitual sentence for a drug conviction, remain indefensibly behind bars. Too many incarcerated Mississippians were left out of this year’s criminal justice reform package and must be prioritized in future ones.
“The passage of SB 2795 is cause for celebration. The policies in the final bill represent hope for hundreds of Mississippians who will be eligible in the near future for an opportunity to return home. By prioritizing this critical parole reform legislation, lawmakers have done their part to push meaningful policy forward that safely reduces the prison population, reunites families, and saves taxpayers millions of dollars. Now it’s time for Governor Tate Reeves to do his, and sign SB 2795 into law.”