Harrison Co. #1 in sending inmates to prison as habitual offenders

Published: Mar. 13, 2013 at 8:42 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 14, 2013 at 9:54 AM CDT
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HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - A South Mississippi district attorney is making it a priority to stop the revolving door that plagues the justice system. Prosecutors say it's frustrating to see offenders convicted and sentenced, only to be released and a short time later re-arrested, then starting the process all over again.

John Cooper, Timothy Lott, and Troy Carter pled guilty last month in separate drug cases. Prosecutors say all three Harrison County men had at least two prior felony convictions and all were sentenced as habitual offenders.

"Our society is built on the belief that people are entitled to a second chance. But people in society do not believe that defendants are entitled to fourth, fifth chances," said Joel Smith, who is the District Attorney for Harrison, Stone, and Hancock counties. "So one of my commitments as the DA is that we will place a top priority on using the tools that are available to us to make sure we prosecute habitual offenders in our district."

A habitual offender conviction means an inmate is not eligible for early release and not allowed to become a trusty. That means he or she must serve every day of a sentence, which Smith said keeps repeat offenders off the streets longer.

"It is a frustrating job sometimes to see the same faces over and over again in the system," Smith said. "That's why it's rewarding for us in Harrison County to see statistics like we saw today where, as of this morning, Harrison County has placed more defendants in Parchman as habitual offenders with mandatory sentences than any other county in the state of Mississippi."

"In fact, the statistics show that Harrison County has sent more than double than the second county in line behind us."

According to the Mississippi Department of Corrections, Harrison County has sent 317 people to Parchman as habitual offenders. The next highest county is Desoto. It's locked up 154 habitual offenders.

For convicts who want to stay out of a courtroom a second, third or fourth time, Smith said there must be support programs.

"The drug court program. Also the restitution centers through the Department of Corrections that are centers that provide convicts with a half way house... They provide them with a job and housing at the end of the sentences in an attempt to not only pay restitution back to their victims, but establish a foundation for them when they get out of prison that they can remain citizens that will abide by the law."

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