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Before they closed the latest legislative session, Mississippi lawmakers were working on a bill that could mean big changes. Eventually the state’s lawmakers will return to work. When they do, they’ll likely start looking at the bill once again.

So, what does the bill do? Senate Bill 2123—or the Mississippi Correctional and Rehabilitation Act of 2020—focuses largely on parole. However, that focus isn’t narrow. It covers everything from parole eligibility and hearings to exemptions from minimum sentencing and discharge plans.

6 ways the bill could affect Mississippi criminal justice

While the House hasn’t yet passed the bill or sent it to the governor, many feel it’s likely to pass. If or when it does, this bill could have a significant impact on anyone facing criminal charges. Here are six of the biggest changes the bill could bring.

  • More inmates may find themselves eligible for parole. The bill states that every prisoner would become eligible for parole, except for some habitual offenders, people convicted of certain violent crimes and people facing the death penalty. Additionally, some offenses are specifically not eligible for parole. People convicted of those crimes would still not be eligible.
  • Inmates receive more clarity on parole eligibility. Most people convicted of non-violent crimes, who follow the rules, become eligible after serving one-quarter of their sentence. People convicted of violent crimes and sex crimes may become eligible after serving half their sentence.
  • Officials need to meet deadlines for inmates’ case plans. Inmates admitted after the bill becomes law would receive their case plans within 90 days of their admittance. Case plans identify parole dates, as well as expectations for behavior, treatment and programming.
  • Parole hearings for capital offenses, violent crimes and sex crimes. Inmates seeking parole for murder or sex offenses need the approval of four members of the parole board. Inmates seeking parole for violent crimes need at least three members to give their approval. No people convicted of sex crimes will receive parole without a hearing.
  • Victims or their family members may speak at hearings. The bill would ensure that victims or designated family members receive the right to speak at a parole hearing.
  • All convicts receive discharge plans before release. This happens whether the convict leaves at the end of a sentence or on parole. The discharge plan is meant to help convicts find their footing back in the community. These plans may address transportation, jobs, housing, health care and support groups.

The bill’s authors claim these changes would remove some uncertainty surrounding the current laws. It would replace this uncertainty with greater supervision, more planning and more uniform standards.

The law is always changing

This bill does more than suggest new standards for Mississippi parole. It highlights how the law is always changing. New bills may affect parole at the state level. Others may set federal standards for attorney-client privileges.

People facing criminal charges need advice that’s based on a thorough understanding of the existing laws, and they want to work with attorneys who stay up to date with the news of possible changes. The best outcome you can receive may change as the laws change. You want to understand your options as well as the strength of your defense.