Editorial Roundup: Mississippi

Greenwood Commonwealth. May 14, 2024.

Editorial: More Feedback Prior To Parole

The Mississippi Legislature was unable to agree on several prominent bills this year: expanding Medicaid, a ballot initiative procedure, restoration of voting rights to non-violent felons who do not commit another crime for five years.

On a less prominent issue, though, involving a wider advance notification of parole hearings for felons convicted of a violent crime, lawmakers got it right.

Gov. Tate Reeves has signed the bill into law, and the additional requirements should prevent violent criminals from getting out of prison without members of the criminal justice system that convicted them providing their insights into the case.

Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, authored House Bill 844 at the request of Attorney General Lynn Fitch, according to the Magnolia Tribune website.

The bill said that at least 30 days before a parole hearing, the state Parole Board must seek recommendations on the case from the attorney general, the attorney who prosecuted the crime, the judge who presided at trial and the sheriff of the county where the inmate was convicted. If the crime occurred in a municipality, the Parole Board also must ask that town’s police chief for his opinion.

Separately, the Parole Board must send those local officials a letter or electronic communication notifying them of the upcoming hearing.

Victims of violent crime, or their families if the case involved a homicide, already have the right to be notified of an upcoming parole hearing. But the survivors of a couple killed in 2005 by the father’s teenage son claim they never were told of the inmate’s hearing. (The Parole Board disputes this.)

The killer was in his early 30s when he was released in 2021 after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling said minors convicted of any crime should be eligible for parole.

Mississippi’s new law admittedly creates some extra work for the Parole Board or its staff by requiring that judges, prosecutors and law enforcement be notified of an upcoming parole hearing that involves a violent crime. It also tries to include some safeguards for the passage of time: If an inmate’s prosecuting attorney or judge is neither living nor serving in court, notice of the parole hearing goes to the current district attorney and one of the judges in the court where the offender was convicted.

Those are relatively mild extra duties, given the weight of the decision at hand: Should someone convicted of a violent crime be granted parole? In addition to receiving the opinions of the victim of such a crime, or a victim’s family, the Parole Board should want to hear the opinions of those in the criminal justice system who handled the case.

The Legislature did its job on this issue.