MCCOMB, Miss. (AP) _ A Mississippi federal judge is praising the Legislature’s passing a bill to reform the state’s criminal justice system.
U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett said he agrees with Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr., who called the legislation the most important reform in 100 years. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed the bill this past week.
The law is modeled on criminal-justice changes made in recent years in several states.
Starrett said the law is heavy with re-entry efforts, which he compared to the way doctors gather information to diagnose a patient’s illness and figure out the best treatment for it.
The Enterprise-Journal reports (http://bit.ly/1sgAbtD ) Starrett spoke to a McComb civic club this past week.
“What we’re doing is not working. We’re locking up too many people and we’re not doing anything with them when they’re there. From a human standpoint, it’s just not the right thing to do.
“Most of the people in prisons are not bad people. They just made bad choices,” Starrett said.
Starrett started Mississippi’s first drug court as a circuit judge. He started a similar effort, a “judge-supervised re-entry program,” at the federal level in 2005.
“Re-entry begins at sentencing,” said Starrett. “I try as best I can to mete out recommendations to direct that person’s time in prison to what the person needs that will help him turn his life around.”
He said these programs must put more of their time and money into the worst of the worst because they need the most help.
“Those are the ones who are dangerous to your community and likely to re-offend,” he said.
Starrett said many large companies will not employ felons, but many smaller businesses will. The federal government offers employers nearly $5,000 in tax credits if they hire a former prisoner, but Starrett believes many businesses don’t know about the law.