Prison Reform Advocates Disagree With Governor’s Veto

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LOWNDES COUNTY, Miss. (WCBI)- There are more than 18 thousand inmates in Mississippi’s prisons.

Crowded cells, understaffed guards, and institutional violence caused the state’s facilities to be on lock down earlier this year.

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Two bills that supporters believe would’ve been pivotal for prison reform to help with these issues were vetoed by Governor Tate Reeves.

Senate Bill 2123 and House Bill 658 both received bipartisan support.

Prison reform advocates said they’re stunned by the governor’s decision.

“Really it was a big letdown for the families of the inmates who would’ve benefited from it,” said Anthony Swift, who’s an advocate for prison reform.

Swift said prison reform it’s something he’s passionate about because it’s an issue that affects him personally.

“I’ve been an advocate for about 12 years, I’ve served time for drug related offenses,” he said.

The West Point man said he knows the importance of inmates being eligible for parole, that’s why he hoped Senate Bill 2123 would get passed.

“It would’ve made people who had received those harsh sentences become eligible for parole after serving 25 percent of their sentence, if they were non-violent,” Swift explained. “That doesn’t mean that they necessarily would’ve made it, but it would’ve given them a ray of hope, and the people with violent offenses, they would’ve been eligible for parole after they serve 50 percent of their sentence.”

The governor also vetoed both pieces of legislation last week.

House Bill 658 would have allowed prisoners to have three separate felonies erased from their record.

District 38 Representative Cheikh Taylor said he voted in favor of both measures.

“We have to make sure that those who are being incarcerated, that there is a sense of fairness, that these people are able to be paroled, that these brothers, sisters, uncles, cousins, are able to see the light of day, especially for nonviolent offenses,” said Taylor.

The state currently faces a federal lawsuit due to the poor conditions at its prison facilities.

“Mississippi is labeled as having the worst prison system in the nation,” said Swift.

Swift and Taylor said the governor’s vetoes is now causing the state to take a step backwards on improving prison reform.

“That would have released up to two thousand prisoners which would have saved the state $30 million,” said Swift.

However, Taylor said this is an issue the state can not continue to kick down the road. He expects the legislature to address this issue again once lawmakers return to the state capitol.

“We’re going to go back as soon as possible to make sure that we send a resounding sound to our constituents that criminal justice reform will happen under our watch,” said Taylor.

Governor Reeves said the bills had good intentions, but went too far.

It would take a two-thirds vote in the house and senate to override the governor’s veto.

Click on the link to read the governor’s statement on his decision for the veto.

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