• 66°

State must address criminal justice inadequacies

Mississippi has a crime problem.

Night after night, cities and counties throughout the state experience violent crimes, including shootings, some of which end in deaths.

Natchez and Adams County are no exception.

In 2018, Natchez and Adams County had 18 murders, which is a high number of murders for such a small community.

Many of those murders from 2018 remain unsolved today, leaving family members without any closure on the deaths of their loved ones.

Law enforcement officers will tell you the lack of arrests in many of those cases can be traced back to a backlog of evidence, including ballistics reports, at the state crime lab in Jackson, which has been underfunded by the state Legislature for years.

Still, the crimes continue to mount.

For several weeks in a row, it has become almost routine that a shooting and perhaps a murder will occur on Friday in southwest Mississippi.

First it was a Friday night incident on Canal Street near John R. Junkin Drive when a man exited his vehicle and was shot sustaining serious injuries.

Then a man was shot on a Friday afternoon while standing in a driveway on Martin Luther King Jr. Street.

Then we had an apparent suicide and attempted murder in Adams County on a recent Friday morning.

And, just last Friday an off-duty Mississippi State Trooper was shot dead in Jefferson County.

While the state trooper’s murder did not occur in Adams County, at least one of the three suspects later arrested in that case, is from Natchez and was reportedly under house arrest for a prior grand larceny conviction in Adams County.

On top of that, the suspect had an arrest warrant out for a murder in Harrison County.

The suspect’s mother said her son had little to no monitoring while he was under house arrest and came and went as he pleased. Her attempts to report her son’s behavior, she said, fell on deaf ears.

Mississippi Department of Corrections officials did not respond to numerous requests for comment on the mother’s allegations, and the local probation officer declined to comment on the matter other than to express condolences for the victim and his family.

The only person who responded to a request for comment on the matter was Sen. Melanie Sojourner, R-Natchez, who said she believes the state’s criminal justice system should not be blamed.

While I understand Sojourner’s sentiment, I also believe one of the basic functions of government is to protect citizens from criminals through a well-functioning criminal justice system. The state’s justice system is clearly broken. Too many times, the suspects in crimes have a record of being in and out of the state’s notoriously underfunded and inadequate prison system for similar violent crimes.

It is past time for the state to adequately fund the state’s criminal justice system from the crime lab to the prisons so that the revolving door will shut on such violent criminals.

We won’t hold our breath, though.

Scott Hawkins is editor of The Natchez Democrat. Reach him at 601-445-3540 or scott.hawkins@natchezdemocrat.com.