Prison system failing to protect us

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Mississippi Legislature is finally waking up to a problem that has plagued the state for years now.

Last week, in debating a prison justice reform measure being touted by Gov. Phil Bryant, some legislators questioned why Marquis Aaron Flowers, who is charged in the Sept. 29 killing of two Brookhaven police officers last year, was even out of prison at the time of the killings, despite his having numerous arrests and convictions.

It is a question, we’ve been asking for a while now, too.

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As is the case with many people suspected of committing crimes in the state these days, Flowers had a lengthy criminal history and at the time of the two officers’ killings, even had a bench order for his arrest for failure to appear in Adams County Circuit Court to answer charges for an incident in Natchez.

Flowers was indicted Jan. 8, 2018, in Sixth District Circuit Court in Adams County on one count of taking away a motor vehicle and four counts of burglary of automobiles in Natchez. The offenses allegedly occurred Feb. 23 and 24, 2017, court records indicate.

At the time of Flowers’ February 2017 arrest, he was reportedly wearing an ankle monitor and had been released on probation in January 2015 for a vehicle burglary conviction in Lincoln County for which he was sentenced in January 2012 to serve five years with three years suspended.

On Feb. 22, 2017, he was arrested in Natchez after a deputy said Flowers fled when the deputy attempted to pull him over for a traffic stop. Flowers led officers on a high-speed chase that was later called off, and the vehicle was later recovered and was found to have been registered to another individual.

Flowers later turned himself in to the sheriff’s office and was arrested on charges of taking away a motor vehicle and four counts of burglary of automobiles in four separate incidents of taking items from inside automobiles in Natchez on Feb. 23.

Circuit Court Judge Al Johnson set Flowers’ bond at $50,000 for those charges, and Flowers posted the bond and was released on May 3, court records indicate.

The Adams County Circuit Clerk’s office filed a bench warrant for Flowers’ arrest Aug. 6 after he failed to appear in court for trial.But why was Flowers out of prison?

I believe in the inherent goodness of the human soul. I’m an optimist, perhaps naïve or even outright ignorant, but I’m not stupid.

Some people are bad and need to be locked up.

That’s why we have prisons, so we can keep them separated from civil society and protect citizens, and that is job one of government — the state government in this case.

For too many years now the state has kicked the can of prison overcrowding down the road. That procrastination has led to a system that lets many criminals, some of them dangerous, out time and time again, after serving small portions of their sentences, due to an early release program to alleviate prison overcrowding.

To further complicate matters, a backlog at the state crime lab hinders law enforcement investigations and delays criminal court proceedings, which leads to many criminals pleading to lesser crimes and getting shorter sentences for which they only have to serve a percentage of the time before they are back on the street.

It is encouraging that the Legislature is finally discussing prison reform and cases such as Flowers’ case.

Let’s hope lawmakers can find the fortitude to make the right decisions in this election year.

The safety of our state’s communities depends on it.

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