Tuesday, September 23, 2014
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi prison officials say they're working to erase a backlog of parole cases that are up for consideration, as recommended by a legislative watchdog group.
The Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review released a report Monday that said some inmates are not receiving parole hearings the first month they're eligible, and that is causing the state to spend thousands of dollars a month to keep people in prison longer than necessary.
The report recommended that the Mississippi Department of Corrections and the Parole Board work together to produce up-to-date lists of inmates who become eligible for parole. The agencies said, in response, that they're doing that.
The Parole Board has recently hired two contract workers to help make its operations more efficient, board chairman Steven Pickett said. He said one has accounting experience and one has worked in law enforcement case management.
"Parole is a privilege. It is not necessarily a right," Pickett said in an interview. "We are cautious and carefully review these cases."
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Grace Fisher said the number of parole cases eligible for consideration increased after August 2013, when state Attorney General Jim Hood issued a legal opinion that said inmates could be considered for parole if they had been convicted of burglary of a nonresidential or of an unoccupied home. Hood said state law specified that those convicted of burglary of an occupied home would not be eligible for parole. Fisher said a state Supreme Court ruling about prior convictions and parole eligibility also helped create a backlog for the Parole Board.
PEER also said the Department of Corrections should ensure that crime victims receive money more quickly from inmates who are ordered to pay restitution. The report said in many cases when inmates are working to pay restitution, the first bit of money is used to pay for the inmates' living expenses in the state restitution centers, then money is taken to pay court costs and fees. Only after that is money sent to victims, the report said.
"As a direct result of MDOC policy, crime victims have last priority in receiving court-ordered restitution," PEER wrote.
The department said timing of payments is controlled by court orders.
"MDOC's policy says disbursement is made in accordance with each court order," Fisher said.
The PEER report was dated Sept. 9 but was first released to the public Monday. It's normal practice for PEER reports to be given to lawmakers several days before they are published on the PEER website.