COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – Governor Bryant recently signed a bill to make the state’s criminal justice system less expensive and more efficient.
“One thing it’s going to do is make our job, in many respects, a lot easier,” says Forrest Allgood, the District Attorney in Columbus’ 16th Circuit Court.
Changes are on the way for Mississippi’s criminal justice system. Governor Bryant just signed House Bill 585 which legislators believe will save millions of dollars in prison expenses and give judges more flexibility in sentencing.
“All this does is make many, many offenses that were formally felonies, misdemeanors and reduces the sentences that are possible on certain crimes,” says Allgood.
Mississippi currently has the 2nd highest incarceration rate in the nation behind Louisiana. Allgood says though the definition of what constitutes a crime hasn’t changed, the way the crime is prosecuted will change.
“There will be a lot of drug cases going to justice court and municipal court now. Possession of small amounts of drugs other than marijuana are now going to be misdemeanors,” says Allgood.
Though House Bill 585 will help to reduce time spent behind bars, it doesn’t address those who continue to offend. Edward Yeates of Father’s Child Ministries, runs a 12-week Manhood program that works to keep offenders from returning to prison.
“One out of every three African American young men end up in prison. About 60% of the men in prison are African Americans. So this is going to affect in the sense that there’ll be more that come home. However, if we just send them with no backing, all we’ll see is a return back to the same old situation,” says Yeates.
Yeates says in the 2 years he’s been running the program, more than 60% of his clients do not return to prison within the 1st year of being released.
House Bill 585 becomes law on July 1st.