GUEST EDITORIAL: Parole board makes job harder

Published 11:40 am Friday, August 19, 2022

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On a less positive note about Mississippi’s prison trends comes this finding by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting: The state’s incarceration rate is now the highest not only in the nation but in the world.

Jerry Mitchell, who founded the center and has reported extensively on the state’s prison system, blames changes in the leadership of the state Parole Board for the uptick in inmate numbers.

Steven Pickett, who chaired the Parole Board for eight years before retiring at the end of last year, said that about 60% of inmates the board considered during his tenure were granted parole. The rate under the new chairman, Jeffery Belk, has dropped to about 25%, according to Mitchell.

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Such a high rejection rate would run counter to the change in philosophy in the Mississippi Legislature. In recent years, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers has passed laws to reduce for some categories of inmates how long they have to wait before they are considered for parole.

Mississippi policymakers have generally concluded that locking up lots of offenders for long stretches of time is a prohibitively expensive way to deal with crime, particularly nonviolent crime.

Furthermore, if inmates feel they are unlikely to be paroled, no matter how well they behave behind bars, they lose the incentive to stay out of prison gangs and other trouble.

An overly tough Parole Board makes running the state’s prisons more costly and more difficult.

— Greenwood Commonwealth