Photo from Mississippi Department of Corrections' Facebook page.
The State Public Defender says the Legislature will receive the task force’s report in January.
Earlier this month, members of the Corrections and Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force met at the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) to determine recommendations for the 2023 Legislature.
When the report is finalized, it will include recommendations for improvements in the criminal justice system in the state, with reentry housing and work release among the topics on the table.
The bipartisan task force has representatives from different parts of the judicial and corrections systems. Circuit Judge Prentiss Harrell serves as chairman, and MDOC Commissioner Burl Cain is among the members.
Additional members of the Task Force represent the Governor’s Office, the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Mississippi State Supreme Court, the Attorney General’s Office, PEER, the Mississippi Chiefs of Police Association, the Mississippi Prosecutors Association, the Mississippi Sheriffs Association, the State Public Defender’s Office, and inmates and families affected by the prison system.
The Task Force has been meeting every year since 2015. Members take a look at the current situation of the criminal justice system and make recommendations to the Legislature.
André de Gruy, the State Public Defender for Mississippi and the longest serving member of the current task force, spoke with Y’all Politics about this year’s recommendations for the 2023 Legislature. He said this year, the Task Force will be making three recommendations. De Gruy explained that the recommendations are not final, but he does not believe there will be any additions.
The three recommendations the group will put forward include improving or upgrading the MDOC computer system, expanding work release opportunities, and establishing a transitional housing program at MDOC.
De Gruy said the first recommendation is for the Legislature to appropriate money for data system upgrades for the Department of Corrections.
“Getting this data is essential to making good recommendations and knowing what’s working and what’s not working, whether that means new legislation or whether that means putting the spotlight on something for MDOC or the parole board or someone else in the system needing to do things,” de Gruy said.
Last year, the Task Force recommended that MDOC have an opportunity to develop their own work release program. This year they have recommended the work release program be implemented at any facility in the state.
“We just think the limits that they put on it were good limits if we’re talking about a small program for an individual County Sheriff as opposed to doing something state-wide,” de Gruy stated.
The Task Force’s third recommendation is a trimmed down version of one they made last year that did not get supported by the Legislature, the State Public Defender discussed.
De Gruy explained that this year’s recommendation is more focused on housing.
“The whole thing we wanted was a Justice Reinvestment Fund, like a lot of other states,” de Gruy said. “And that’s taking the money that we save by reducing the prison population and putting it into a fund to help people who are getting out so they don’t come back in.”