New bills would release drug offenders early

One side says it gives non-violent offenders a second chance, the other side says we shouldn't let drug dealers out of jail early.

Dual bills in the Mississippi State Legislature will release certain drug offenders early to save money and space in Mississippi's prison system.

Due to money issues and lack of space in Mississippi's corrections facilities, lawmakers are looking to reduce the aount of time served for certain non-violent drug offenders.

In a bill passed under Governor Kirk Fordice's administration, convicted criminals must serve at least 85 percent of their sentence before being considered for parole. House bill 7-29 would reduce the amount of time served for those convicted of sale or manufacture of marijuana and street sale of prescription drugs to 25 percent of their sentence. A companion bill in the senate widens those offenders affected.

Legislators said the strategy is a sound way to relieve the rapidly growing overcrowding situation.

If either bill is signed into law, it could save the state between $6 - 20 million, but could release up to 9,000 inmates. Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant said he favors looking at strengthening our drug courts to take care of first-time offenders before releasing anyone.

Proponents of the bills say it gives these offenders a second chance.