Sheriff sees other side of reduced sentences
by Paisley Boston
Mar 27, 2014 | 1200 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Attorney General Eric Holder is pushing to reduce prison sentencing for drug related crimes.

Holder’s proposal, which is expected to be approved by the independent agency that sets sentencing policies for federal judges, would affect 70 percent of drug offenders in the criminal justice system, according to figures provided by Justice Department officials.

The average cost per inmate is $65.41 per day and Mississippi spends $41.51 per day.

The Mississippi Department of Corrections' budget for the 2013 fiscal year was $339,130,424, and the prison system is faced with a nearly $30 million deficit because of inmate growth, two federal court orders and critical capital improvement needs.

The new bill would reduce sentences by an average of nearly a year.

Although Holder's motive is to reduce prison population, Bolivar County Sheriff Kelvin Williams said he believes a little differently.

"The reason that he is thinking this way is because of the high cost of prison in Mississippi. In law enforcement, it is our job to try to relieve our communities of drugs," said Williams.

"We want the legislature to understand that we do want to do something to lower the prison population and the cost for inmates in the state of Mississippi but we also need to understand that these people need some form of punishment for their illegal activities," he added.

In a recent meeting with the United States Sentencing Commission, Holder said certain types of cases result in too many Americans going to prison for far too long and at times for no truly good public safety reason.

Williams said individuals who choose to violate the law should be punished just as any other crime.

"Individuals who are out there violating the law and selling drugs need to know that there are consequences involved in their actions. It is a crime for them to sell drugs. People tend to get involved with crime and expect not to face any consequences in their wrongdoing," added Williams.

Under current mandatory minimum guidelines, a drug offender convicted of possessing 500 grams of cocaine or 28 grams of crack would face a term of 63 to 78 months.

Holder is proposing that the time in such a case be reduced to 51 to 63 months.

"In order for sentencing to be lowered for drug related crimes, it all depends on the amount of drugs that the offender has and the type of drugs. I am assuming that they are referring to small amounts of drugs. As long as there are measures in place to let those people know that they have violated the law and that there are consequences for their actions, I am all for it," continued Williams.

According to the United States Department of Justice, only three states, Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma, have incarceration rates at or above 650 per 100,000 residents.

Mississippi is second only to Louisiana in incarceration rates.

Holder’s policy would reduce the Bureau of Prison population by 6,550 people within five years.

According to the Justice Department out of 216,000 federal inmates, nearly half are serving time for drug-related crimes.

"If law makers decide to put other measures in place then we can move forward to supporting it to a certain extent," said Williams.

The seven-member sentencing panel for the U.S. Department of Justice has proposed an amendment to federal sentencing guidelines and will vote on it as soon as April.

Until then, federal judges must refer to current sentencing guidelines.

The bill has passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and heads next to the floor of the U.S. Senate.