A bill signed by the governor is sure to cause some controversy. The bill states that first time non- violent offenders will be eligible for parole after serving a quarter of their prison term. Until now, they were required by law to serve at least 85% of their prison time.
Critics of the 85% requirement, which was passed six years ago, say it lead to crowded prisons and caused corrections department budgets to skyrocket. They also claim it put some people in prison who should not be there. District Attorney Cono Caranna said, "When the 85% requirement was passed most DA's across the state opposed it because it included non-violent offenders! At that time what we were saying was non violent offenders should be in a separate category. That way non violent first time offenders would not have to do 85% of their time."
Caranna and other District Attorney's felt legislators went "too far" in their "get tough on crime" stance. Now, Caranna is glad the legislature has corrected its mistake, but "This is better than nothing, I am certainly happy about that, but I believe a better process would have been to go back to 1995."
As the new law is written, parole eligibility would only apply to first time non violent offenders convicted after January 2000. Caranna said this eligibility date is ridiculous. The Director of Corrections at the Harrison County Jail, Diane Riley, agrees, and is also glad the legislators have made the law more lenient, but she wonders how much of an effect it will have at her jail. "Looking at our work center here, where we house our non violent offenders, is population is small in terms of who will benefit from the legislation," said Riley. Riley estimates only about ten inmates at the Corrections Center might now be eligible for parole.
State Corrections Commissioner Robert Johnson says of the nearly 18,000 inmates in Mississippi's prisons about 2,000 might now be eligible for parole.