Joel Smith, DA for Harrison, Stone and Hancock counties in South Mississippi, said that he grew sick of seeing the same faces in court over and over again. Smith said that while our justice system is built on giving everyone a second chance, he does not believe that people should be given three, four and five opportunities to behave in accordance with the law.
As a result, Smith said that a top priority of his will be using all the legal tools at his disposal to prosecute habitual offenders in his jurisdiction. Just recently this was made a reality when three Harrison County defendants in separate drug cases, each with at least two prior convictions, were sentenced as habitual offenders.
In Mississippi, a habitual offender conviction means that inmates are not eligible for early release and cannot become a “trusty.” This means that a person with a habitual offender conviction is required to serve every single day of their sentence and cannot be given special privileges including early release reserved for trustworthy inmates. Smith says the goal is to keep the offender off the streets for as long as possible and not give any credits for good behavior to shorten sentences.
Smith’s goal of targeting repeat criminals has certainly been effective from a numbers perspective. New figures were recently released by the Mississippi Department of Corrections which named Harrison County, located within Smith’s jurisdiction, as the leading county for sentencing people as habitual offenders. In fact, Harrison County has sent more than double the number of people to the Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman Farm), as the second place county. Harrison County sent a total of 317 people to Parchman as habitual offenders. Second place is located right here in Northern Mississippi, DeSoto County, which locked up 154 habitual offenders.
While the tough love approach may be working in terms of locking people up, it’s not clear that it has helped any of the men overcome the problems that led them to their criminal activity. For real change to occur other programs need to be developed, such as drug treatment options, reliable half way houses and job rehabilitation programs that help incorporate convicts back into civil society by giving them a way to establish a foundation outside of prison.
Source: “Harrison Co. #1 in sending inmates to prison as habitual offenders,” by Danielle Thomas, published at WLOX.com.