Miss. Gov. Bryant Signs Criminal-Justice Overhaul Bill

Post Date: March 31, 2014

(AP/The Clarion-Ledger) — Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant on Monday signed a bill designed to make the criminal justice system more efficient and less expensive.

Bryant said House Bill 585, which becomes law July 1, will protect public safety and could save the state $266 million in prison expenses, spread over 10 years.

The bill is modeled on criminal-justice changes made in recent years in Texas, Georgia and other states with Republican governors who campaigned as being tough on crime.

The Mississippi bill says anyone convicted of a violent offense will be required to serve at least 50 percent of a sentence, and anyone convicted of a nonviolent offense will have to serve at least 25 percent.

Judges will get more flexibility to impose alternate sentences, such as ordering treatment for drug users. Circuit courts will be authorized to establish treatment programs for military veterans who might have traumatic brain injuries, depression or drug and alcohol problems.

For the first time, Mississippi law will specify which crimes are classified as violent, for sentencing purposes.

Bryant was surrounded by law-enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges and legislators as he signed the bill Monday in the Capitol rotunda. He said he had spoken to Texas Gov. Rick Perry about the Mississippi legislation, and Perry praised it.

“Gov. Perry reminded me that Texas is not soft on crime,” Bryant said.

The Mississippi law will strengthen requirements that victims be notified before an inmate is released from prison. Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, said that provision will help families of victims and families of those convicted of crimes.

“I see this bill, actually, as a family-values bill,” said Wiggins, a former prosecutor who was one of the main lawmakers working on the measure. Read more