JACKSON, MS (WDAM) - The Senate passed House Bill 1352 also known as the Criminal Justice Reform Act on March 13 during the legislative session. If it becomes law, the bill will help those leaving looking to gain employment after serving their time in the state’s prison system along with expanding drug courts. Additionally, it will prevent automatic suspension of driver’s licenses for nonpayment of fines or simple drug possessions.
“Criminal justice reform is something that I’ve been working on my four years as being the state senator, because I realize that criminal justice reform means a lot to the state of Mississippi,” said Sen. Juan Barnett who introduced SB 2841 last year. “I believe in giving an individual an opportunity to gain employment and there’s so many people across this state who cannot gain employment or good employment, because of something that they did in their past. And I just believe in helping these individuals be able to go to work and showcase their talents and hopefully we can move past these small crimes that they have committed that has prevented them from gaining that type of employment.”
SB 2841 passed both the House and Senate, but failed to get a signature from Gov. Phil Bryant, Barnett said. However, Barnett is confident that if House Bill 1352 gets back to the governor’s desk, Bryant will sign it.
“The governor understands as well that when we talk about criminal justice reform, we’re talking about economical uptick in the state of Mississippi and furthermore it also lessens the burdens on taxpayers who happen to fund our prison systems and things like this,” Barnett said.
Barnett says he’s not supporting murderers, but he does believe in giving people a fighting chance.
“... I am advocating for those who have committed non-violent crimes and who are having to carry these felonies for the rest of their natural lives,” he said. “And if we’re expecting these individuals to come out of prison or jail and expect these people to be productive citizens then we have to show them that we’re serious about getting them help that they need.”
Empower Mississippi, an independent, non profit advocacy organization whose mission is to remove barriers in order for Mississippians to flourish, thanked the Senate for supporting the measure.
“We are encouraged by the legislature’s support for HB 1352,” said Empower Mississippi president Grant Callen. “These reforms are common-sense measures that will reduce the rate of recidivism in our state, help more people find meaningful work and create safer communities for everyone. We want to thank Governor Phil Bryant, Lt. Governor Tate Reeves, Chairman Briggs Hopson and Senator Juan Barnett for their work on this legislation. We are optimistic that the legislature is committed to continuing the process of reforming our criminal justice system. Empower Mississippi remains committed to supporting these reforms that will remove barriers to work for the people of our state while protecting public safety and taxpayers.”
Now, the bill heads back to the House of Representatives where they will have until Friday, Mar. 22 to either approve it in the Senate’s amendments or send the bill to conference.
“I will continue to fight this fight, because it’s a fight that needs to be fought not just here in Mississippi but across the United States,” Barnett said.