The Senate Judiciary B Committee has already passed a piece of legislation authored by Sen. Angela Hill which would effectively limit the number of cases that parole officers are able to take on.
“Our parole officers are overworked and they’re handling too many cases. They are frustrated and overwhelmed,” said Sen. Hill. She said that these officers have expressed concern on being able to keep up with all of their cases. For each case they are responsible for making sure parolees are reporting when required and doing things like taking drug tests on time.
Currently, Parole Officers have no limit to the amount of cases they can be assigned. Hill likens the situation to that of the inside of the state’s correctional facilities, which are also severely lacking when it comes to guards.
SB 2080 would create a cap on the number of cases to 100.
Hill said many of the officers she has spoken with enjoy their jobs but are frustrated with the conditions. She said many she knows personally, will go the extra mile to seek out rehabilitation services and other needs an inmate might have when heading back into society.
Hill added that it is important that the system not lose good officers like that.
“I know some that are so close to quitting right now, and I have begged them to just hang on for the last two years,” said Hill. “Some of these people truly have law enforcement in their heart and are the right kind of people that will do the right kind of job and I don’t want to lose them because they’re overworked.”
Chairman of Judiciary B Sen. Wiggins also echoed Sen. Hill’s concern and added that most experts agree addressing this issue is an important part of criminal justice reform.
“It is unrealistic to expect them to manage a 300 person case load with everything that has to go on,” said Wiggins. “We need to get to the point where it is manageable.”
With measures of criminal justice reform passed over the years, Hill said that has put a lot more people out on the street, but being monitored is still considered incarceration. Wiggins added that there are more people in the system being monitored than actually incarcerated. With these criminal justice reform measures of the past, more people have the option of gaining parole and these officers are bombarded with more and more cases.
“There are too many moving parts,” said Hill. “I think if they had less inmates that they were responsible for they could sit down and put intentional time to each case.”
The bill comes during a time in with the Mississippi Department of Corrections is under severe scrutiny due to the conditions of the prison system. Since January, MDOC has reported 19 inmate deaths. Governor Tate Reeves has also moved to close Unit 29 at Parchman. Unit 29 has been under allegations of uninhabitable living conditions.
Wiggins said the issue of overloading probation and parole officers has been around since the passage of HB 585. The recommendations from the task force at that time were to reduce the case numbers.
“For the last five years the Department of Corrections has had the opportunity to address this case load issue and they haven’t done it,” said Wiggins. “That can be done without any additional funding it just hasn’t been done.”
He said part of the reason it was addressed in committee was to set the goal of 100 cases per officer to hopefully be able to direct the MDOC to put the resources where they need to be.
The bill passed through the Senate Committee last week and Hill said it was well received by members. She said those who did have questions initially on the bill have gotten them resolved and have shown support to move the bill forward.