April 1, 2009
The Mississippi Department of Corrections is either releasing or considering the release of 78 felons into Lowndes County this month.
"There hasn''t ever been anything like this," said Lowndes County District Attorney Forrest Allgood. "I think it''s awful. The economy is not good. Most of these people are not going to come out to jobs. At least half of these people were convicted of selling dope and I rather expect that is the occupation they are going back to."
According to the Mississippi Department of Corrections, as of this morning 24 inmates have been approved for parole and another 14 are nearing the end of their sentencing. An additional 40 inmates are being considered for parole.
According to Allgood the average number of inmates released in a given month is between eight and 12.
"I think it''s crazy," said Lowndes County Sheriff Butch Howard. "There''s some of them on that list that haven''t been in there but just a few months. I really believe this just goes against what we''re trying to do."
Local law enforcement found out about the high number of potential parolees after receiving a stack of Community Attitude Surveys from MDOC. The surveys are meant to provide feedback from law enforcement about each individual being considered for early release.
"The surveys are supposed to go to the judge, the sheriff and the district attorney," said Allgood. "Probably as many times as not when the surveys do come they''ve already released the people the survey is referencing."
The high number of inmates being considered for early release is the result of Senate Bill 2136 which was passed in 2008. The legislation calls for the possibility of the early release of some non-violent offenders, which often includes people convicted of dealing drugs. About half of those on the list of potential parolees have been convicted of drug related crimes.
"This is a function of the state of Mississippi functionally ditching the 85-percent provisions," said Allgood. "Most of these people would still be in jail had that statute not been modified."
While Howard understands keeping people in prison costs money, he fears those who make the laws may be missing the forest for the trees.
"They are trying to relieve overcrowding and they are definitely under a budget crunch like everyone else," he said. "But at some time you have to figure out what''s more important: dollars and cents or public safety."
Allgood believes Lowndes County is heading back to a time when the local criminal justice system amounted to a revolving door of repeat offending.
"In the ''80s and early ''90s the grand jury would look at 600 cases and return 400 indictments four times a year," he said. "In the last three years there have been only two occasions when the grand jury has returned 200 indictments. What we were doing was working."
"It''s not just Lowndes County, it''s statewide," said Howard. "We''re going to try to take whatever avenues we can to get the parole board to take a harder look at these people. I know we can''t keep building prisons, but as crime increases we have to do something."
A representative from the Mississippi Parole Board could not be reached by press time.
A frustrated Allgood said the average person really has only one course of action if he is concerned about the high number of inmate releases.
"John Citizen doesn''t have anything he can do to change the laws in Mississippi other than picking up the phone and calling his legislator and saying, ''This is ludicrous and we want the law to change,''" he said.