Jul. 22—TUPELO — Mississippi's parole process is inefficient and delays the release of some eligible prisoners, according to a recent report by a legislative watchdog committee.
Ahead of a deadline looming next year to renew or change Mississippi's parole process, the Joint Legislative Committee on Performance, Evaluation and Expenditure Review — or PEER — has released a study of the Magnolia State's Parole Board.
Among the key findings: About 12% of Mississippi's prisoners who were eligible for parole in 2019 got a late hearing.
By state law, a parole hearing should occur "when the offender is within 30 days of the month of his parole eligibility date." Based on a sample of 150 prisoners in 2019, not only did some prisoners receive a late hearing, this occurred even as almost 25% got an early hearing, all in an effort to clear a backlog previously documented by PEER in 2014.
This month's PEER report also states that standards governing "presumptive parole" are routinely ignored.
Presumptive parole "allows offenders to be released without going through the formal parole process or having a formal hearing as long as certain requirements are met."
But according to PEER, the Parole Board has exercised its discretionary power to virtually block the implementation of presumptive parole.
PEER says that in 2019, the Parole Board held 274 unnecessary hearings for prisoners eligible for presumptive parole.
The Parole Board also fails to follow other statutory requirements, including a failure to formally documenting its decisions through public minutes. PEER also says that the Parole Board pays unauthorized travel reimbursements.
The PEER report comes even as the Legislature faces a deadline of next year to decide the future of the parole system.
The law that created and governs the Parole Board will expire next July. If that happens, responsibility for the parole process will fall to the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
However, MDOC lacks the capacity to administer parole right now.
That means lawmakers either need to create a new system, renew the current law, or renew and revise the current law.
The PEER report advises that if lawmakers stick with the status quo, the Parole Board "would most likely continue to operate with the same problems."
As a result, PEER notes that "it is timely for the Legislature to examine all possible options and pass legislation that could make the State Parole Board more efficient."
Parole is now the common form of releasing people held in prison from state custody, with about 63% of the state's prisoners who are released from custody released through the parole process.
Parole — including the decision to grant or refuse it — is managed by the Mississippi State Parole Board. By state law, the Parole Board has five members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate.
Parole board members work full-time and are state employees.