New Laws Include One To Ease Sentences On Non-Violent Criminals

Back in 1995, state lawmakers got tougher on crime and passed the truth in sentencing rule which requires all inmates to serve 85 percent of their sentence. State Rep. Roger Ishee has contended all along that that rule has led to prison over-crowding and a rising budget. Now, a bill he supported that's now in effect would allow first time non-violent offenders a chance for parole after serving only a quarter of their sentence.

While the old saying goes, "if you do the crime, you must do the time," a new law is changing that somewhat for non-violent offenders.

"That sounds good and it sounds like you are tough on crime, but we're being tough on our taxpayers pocketbook," Rep. Ishee said. "If we keep going like this we're going to have to increase taxes and I don't want to do that."

This new law is an effort to reduce prison over-crowding and to reduce the prison budget. There are more than 20,000 state inmates in jails across Mississippi and the state's Department of Corrections Budget is at $250 million a year. Department of Corrections officials figure that the inmate population would be reduced by more than 2,000 people a year by allowing shorter sentences for non-violent offenders.

"We actually are spending too much money for prisons we need that money for education that was my thought when I introduced my bill," Rep. Ishee said. "We have to cut corners somewhere and we have to save some money, we need to redirect some money and one place we can do it, of course, would be if we cut down on this prison population, spent less money there then we could have more money for K through 12 as well as for junior colleges and for our university system."

Although many agree that this will free up state funds for more important projects, how does Ishee answer critics that are concerned that non-violent offenders will turn into repeat offenders?

"I think if we'll work toward training these people, rehabilitating those that have a drug and or a alcohol problem, get those out, get them functioning and then make them productive citizens, I think we'll have less of them going back."