Jobs Part of Prison Reform, Legislator Says
By Bobby Harrison/Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Curbing growth in the state’s prison population will require more changes to the criminal justice system than proposed in December by a task force, one legislator says.
Rep. Willie Bailey, D-Greenville, speaking Wednesday at a House hearing, cited specifically the state’s workers’ compensation law. Workers’ compensation insurers often prohibit businesses from hiring felons, Bailey noted.
“We’re here to address reform, but if we don’t get workers’ compensation out of the way… we’re not solving any problems,” he said. “These people will be right back in the system, because guess what? They have to eat.”
Gov. Phil Bryant and the legislative leadership want to consider proposals this year to curb prison growth while ensuring certain violent offenders have lengthy prison sentences.
On Wednesday, the second day of the 2014 legislative session, the House Corrections and Judiciary B committees held a joint hearing to discuss recommendations of a task force established by the 2013 Legislature.
Judiciary B Chair Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, said after Bailey’s comments he wanted to consider not only those recommendations, but suggestions from members.
One House member said the Legislature should look at making it easier for people convicted of a crime to have their record expunged if they stay out of trouble, which would help address the workers’ compensation issue.
The task force’s recommendations include alternative sentences, such as house arrest, and more intense supervision for people on probation and parole while in many instances ensuring longer sentences for more serious crimes.
By the same token, the task force recommends that nonviolent offenders serve at least 25 percent of their sentence while violent offenders serve 50 percent. Under current law, the Department of Corrections has the authority to release inmates earlier than that for good behavior and good work.
The difficult task, Gipson said, will be determining what is a violent crime. Under current law, Gipson said, “it is a matter of interpretation….We are going to craft a statutory definition.”
He said legislators are working with the attorney general’s office to develop that definition.