Governor Tate Reeves has signed the last and largest piece to the criminal justice reform effort of the 2021 Legislative session.
On Thursday, which was deadline day for the remaining 12 bills on Governor Reeves’ desk, he signed SB 2795 the “Mississippi Earned Parole Eligibility Act.” This piece of legislation allows for non-violent offenders and some violent offenders to be eligible for parole after completing a certain portion of their sentence.
It does not however apply parole eligibility to capitol offenders, sex offenders, traffickers, habitual offenders and any others that are already forbidden by state statute.
For those violent offenders that are eligible it would only apply after 50 percent of a sentence is served or 20 years whichever is less and 60 percent or 25 years.
While the bill grants the eligibility for parole, all parole decisions are made by the Parole Board with input from law enforcement, prosecutors, victims and the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
The bill was authored by Senator Juan Barnett, who proposed similar legislation last year. While the previous bill passed both chambers it was later vetoed by Gov. Reeves. After the Senate passed the 2021 bill, Barnett said he felt they make the compromises on both sides necessary to get it to law.
“I was just glad to get a phone call from the Governor letting me know that he did sign the bill. I thought that meant a whole lot more for him to sign it than to veto it or just let it become law,” said Barnett.
Barnett added that this will surely provide hope for those individuals who would have otherwise never had the opportunity to earn their parole. He hopes other states will see what Mississippi has done and craft their own legislation so that criminal justice reform can become a national movement.
“Chairman Barnett, and Senators Sparks and Wiggins, together with Sheriffs and DAs from across the State, worked hard to craft legislation which responsibly increases parole opportunities for some nonviolent offenders without compromising public safety,” said Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann.
Governor Reeves took to Twitter to announce the signing:
“SB2795 passed the Legislature this year by wide margins in both chambers. I have many good friends that strongly support it….likewise I have many good friends that are adamant in their opposition. This bill expands parole eligibility for some – but it does not guarantee it! And not all are eligible – we were able to ensure 1st and 2nd degree murderers can’t get it. Non-violents are eligible at 25% but committing a crime while armed gets you at least 60% of your sentence. And no one gets out JUST because they are older. Maybe best of all, habitual offenders are not included in this bill. My conservative friends that voted against this bill did so based on valid concerns. I share many of them which led to last year’s veto, I also believe in 2nd chances. I trust my Parole Board appointees to make wise decisions. SB2795 was not an easy call for me. But, at the end of the day, I believe it meets my standard for a measured approach, & with proper implementation, it can be a net positive for MS. Therefore I signed SB2795 into law earlier today. May God bless Mississippi!”