Last year, Gov. Tate Reeves vetoed legislation designed to reduce the expensive and sometimes counterproductive overpopulation of Mississippi’s prisons.
In doing so, the governor not only rejected a bipartisan effort in the Legislature but ran counter to the thinking of many leading conservatives in America today, who have concluded that being the No. 1 incarcerator in the world is not a distinction this nation should want.
Reeves will get another crack at getting in step with the trend away from the “lock ’em up and throw away the key” mentality. This week, the Legislature — again with solid support from both parties — passed a bill to make many offenders eligible for parole sooner.
The major difference between this year’s version and last year’s is that several crimes have been kept off limits for early release, no matter how model an inmate the prisoner has been. Among the disqualifying crimes is murder.
While that may seem like a sensible line to draw, it fails to take into account that oftentimes murder is a one-time lapse of judgment, especially if it’s a crime of passion. It’s been said that killers often make the best trusties because they don’t have a criminal predisposition. Rather they let their emotions get away with them during a heated dispute with someone they knew, often a romantic partner, and lived to regret it.
Be that as it may, even a somewhat shrunken criminal justice reform bill would be an improvement. Mississippi has a history of locking up way too many people for way too long periods of time. It has often failed to take into account that many non-violent crimes are fueled by drug or alcohol addiction, and that the state would be better able to turn these lives around by getting the perpetrators into rehabilitation rather than caging them up.
Mississippi has been gradually moving in a more progressive direction with alternative sentencing and other changes to the state’s parole laws. The current legislation is another step forward. Reeves should sign it.