JONES COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - The Jones County District Attorney and Circuit Court Judge say Mississippi Department of Corrections inmates are being released too early.
The Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) has requirement that non-violent offenders serve minimum of 25 percent of their sentence and violent offenders must serve a minimum of 50 percent, but Jones County District Attorney Tony Buckley said that is not happening.
"It's a myth," Buckley said. "They have other programs to release them early. One being parole and another being earned release. Either way, you need to think that 25 percent and 50 percent is now basically a maximum cap. It's very frustrating because we can no longer simply predict to victims when the defendant is going to get out. You need to take the earliest time, and then cut some time off it again."
According to a letter from Mississippi's parole board sent to Buckley, of the 15 inmates convicted in Jones County who are eligible for parole this month, five were convicted in earlier in 2016 for charges ranging from methamphetamine possession to felony DUI.
"This defendant was given 12 months to serve of his previously suspended time because of repeated failures to abide by the terms of his sentence order," wrote Judge Dal Williamson of a man convicted of felony DUI. "To release him after only three months provides him very little incentive to abide by anything."
Buckley said, "A defendant, last name of Trotter, that's an absolute pest in the county for stealing. If it's there, she's going to steal it. She was sentenced to five years to serve, and she's been released in under a year. A DUI case for example. This individual was released so early that when we saw him out, we thought he'd escaped from the penitentiary. No, he'd been released early. It's worse than college algebra. Nobody can figure it out. You can call the lawyers up at the MDOC, and they can't give you a straight answer (of) when they think these people are going to be released. The only way there's certainty is through the habitual offender statue or if it's a sexual assault on a child."
Buckley said it is not the parole board or MDOC's fault, but because state lawmakers continue to cut the department's budget.
"I think it would be unfair to simply blame it on the parole board or the Department of Corrections (because) the Department of Corrections is under-funded and under-staffed," Buckley said. "It's a conscious budget decision by the legislature, and they're having to release people to keep within the mandates of their budget. Eventually if the legislature messes with the habitual statue, which I think one day they're going to because that's how we're responding to keep people in, then we all need to just realize that we're in a lot of danger here."
Buckley said he has tried to use alternate programs, like house arrest, to save the state money, but said even the amount of time served on those is being cut.
"In the past, you put them on house arrest, the bracelet monitoring system, for 12 months," Buckley said. "They would serve 12 months. Now they're paroling those after three months, so it never stops. They're always continuously cutting."
Buckley said offenders are often spending more time in county jails, and that costs local taxpayers money.
"They're serving more time, basically, in the county jails, but this puts the cost on the local taxpayer, whether it's in Forrest County, Jones County or surrounding Pine Belt counties," Buckley said. "And that's not how the system should be."
Moving forward, Buckley said he would like realistic estimates about amount of time that will be served.
"We need literally truth in sentencing," he said. "If it's 25 percent is the minimum, then it needs to be the minimum. If it's 50 percent, it needs to be the minimum. Don't tell us it is when it isn't. I would think whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, you would agree that the number one purpose of government is to protect the people, and by releasing criminals early, neither the Democrats or the Republicans are protecting the people that elect them."