Some of crime problem lies at state level

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Too often, we hear reports of shots fired in the Natchez and Adams County.

Fortunately, many of those reports turn out to be unverified due to mistaken reports from witnesses who actually heard fireworks, a vehicle backfire, a transformer blow or any number of things and mistakenly believed them to be gunshots.

Unfortunately, however, many of those reports turn out to be actual gunshots and evidence is left behind, such as bullet holes in buildings or cars or a person.

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Such was the case early Saturday morning when an 18-year-old Natchez man was shot to death as he sat in his car on East Stiers Lane. Another person in the car with him at the time also was shot and received a non-life-threatening injury to the leg.

Police are still investigating that case which is just one of many such incidents reported in Natchez in the past year.

Most of this year’s shootings and murders, law enforcement officials tell us, involve rival youth groups retaliating against each other for past deeds.

More often than not, the suspects in those cases have turned out to be people who have recent histories of committing similar crimes.

Such was the case with the suspect in another Saturday morning shooting in Catahoula Parish that killed a Concordia Parish man.

The suspect in that case, lives in and was arrested in Natchez, and had only recently been released on parole from the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

The suspect pleaded guilty in 2016 for shooting at and injuring three teens, who had been driving through the apartment complex he lived in at the time in 2014.

The suspect was released earlier this year after serving a percentage of his original sentence under a program that allows some inmates to be released early, due to prison overcrowding.

Such was the case with several suspects in other crimes in Natchez in the past year.

The revolving door of the state’s prison system, is not the fault of local law enforcement, nor is it the fault of the courts and prosecutors.

The problem lies at the state level, I believe, where the prison system and state crime laboratory are underfunded.

As The Natchez Democrat reported earlier this year, the state’s crime lab has a backlog of autopsies and that can put cases on hold for months, sometimes resulting in plea deals being accepted and some offenders getting shorter sentences after pleading to lesser crimes than they were originally facing.

Then, some of those offenders are released after serving only a percentage of the sentences due to the overcrowded prison system.

No one should be surprised when some of those offenders come back to the community and end up being accused of the same types of offenses they were convicted of previously.

Granted, the suspects in the recent cases are innocent until proven guilty, but let’s hope the backlog at the state crime lab won’t clog up the wheels of justice too long to prevent them from getting a fair trial.

Yes, Natchez has a violent crime problem, but the state has an even bigger problem that is contributing to our city’s problem and similar problems throughout the state that needs to be addressed — Prison overcrowding and the underfunded crime lab.

Let’s hope the state Legislature will resolve both of those problems in the upcoming legislative session.

Scott Hawkins is editor of The Natchez Democrat. Reach him at 601-445-3540 or