Gartin Building Courtroom with the Great Seal of the State of Mississippi

Reentry Council makes recommendations for criminal justice reform

February 13, 2019

The Mississippi Reentry Council on Feb. 12 made recommendations for legislation to reduce recidivism and help former inmates find jobs.

The Reentry Council’s report and recommendations express support for the Governor’s criminal justice reform package, including expanding problem-solving courts and other measures outlined in House Bill 1352.

“Several of the Governor’s proposals have been discussed and promoted by the Reentry Council for years,” says the Reentry Council report, which U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett sent to members of the Mississippi Legislature on Tuesday, Feb. 12. Judge Starrett is chairman of the Reentry Council.

Judge Starrett, a former state circuit judge, formed the state’s first felony drug court 20 years ago. The Reentry Council recommended creation of intervention courts, reentry courts and mental health courts in an expansion of problem-solving courts.

Other Reentry Council recommendations include:

• remove some of the grounds for driver license suspension and revocation, including drug violations unrelated to driving, and failure to pay fines or fees or respond to traffic violation summonses or citations;
• revise crimes eligible for expungement;
• remove the automatic bar for occupational licensing for a non-violent conviction more than three years before license application;
• authorize state tax credits for employers who hire non-violent felony offenders;
• create the “Programs To Reduce Recidivism Fund” to collect savings from criminal justice reform for use in community reentry programs;
• expand and track Smart Start and cognitive behavioral programs in state prisons with the goal that each inmate would complete the programs before release from confinement;
• establish day reporting centers as an alternative to incarceration in some instances;
• add at least 155 additional transitional housing beds for offenders leaving confinement;
• adopt Corrections Commissioner Pelicia Hall’s proposal to get rid of striped prison uniforms.

The Reentry Council’s purpose is to create effective strategies to assist former inmates in their return to society, reduce recidivism, increase public safety and reduce budgetary constraints on the state prison system.

The Reentry Council was formed in 2013 by a group of corrections, judicial, prosecutorial, law enforcement, faith-based and non-profit organizations and individuals who were interested in helping former inmates to successfully reenter Mississippi communities after completion of prison sentences. The Legislature formalized the Reentry Council through the adoption of Mississippi Code Section 47-7-111 in 2015.

The 12-member Reentry Council Steering Committee includes Judge Starrett, U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Mississippi; U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst; Corrections Commissioner Pelicia Hall; Attorney General Jim Hood; Rev. Don Gann, pastor of First Baptist Church of Oxford; Chief U.S. Probation Officer Mark Quarles; Mississippi Supreme Court Presiding Justice Jim Kitchens; Department of Mental Health Executive Director Diana Mikula; Division of Medicaid Executive Director Drew Snyder; Parole Board Chairman Steve Pickett; Department of Employment Security Office of Job Connections Director Robin Stewart; and Roy Dixon, a former offender.

The report is available at this link: of Mississippi Reentry Council-2019.pdf.