Right on Crime is expanding with fulltime presence in Mississippi, and I am honored to be heading this effort.
My first order of business is to make Mississippi reentry ready. Over the past few years, the Mississippi Legislature has passed practical, conservative criminal justice reforms focused toward improving public safety, but there remains more to achieve.
Mississippi Corrections Committee Chairman Juan Barnett sums up the next chapter in criminal justice reform when he points out that Mississippi cannot continue to “parole, parole, parole without reentry.”
A practical plan for reentry is critical to the success of criminal justice reforms like Senate Bill 2795 (Earned Parole Eligibility Act) and to the success of the thousands of individuals who are released into the community each year.
I firmly believe that Mississippi has what it takes to address the needs of individuals released into parole supervision. However, it will require the assistance and buy-in of all criminal justice stakeholders.
Nationally, more than 625,000 people are released from prison each year. In Mississippi, nearly 9,000 individuals are released from the Mississippi Department of Corrections facilities. According to MDOC, 36% of those individuals will return to prison within three years. This reflects a disservice to the safety of communities throughout Mississippi.
This cycle of incarceration and return to prison, known as recidivism, also costs taxpayers millions of dollars annually. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the population of former prisoners and people with felony convictions led to a loss of $78 billion-$87 billion in the nation’s gross domestic product in 2014. In addition to the financial costs associated with recidivism, families of those incarcerated — most importantly the children — also suffer as a result.
Successful reentry is key to stopping this vicious cycle of recidivism, which translates to better public safety, but also restoration of individuals to their communities and families.
In my role as Mississippi state director, I will build on my experience as a former probation and parole officer. I will also create in Mississippi a model to engage employers in second-chance hiring and successful reentry policies.
As a native Louisianan, I like to compare daily tasks with cooking. While it may sound simplistic, Right on Crime has created a recipe for what I like to call ReEntry Gumbo.
The key ingredient is employer engagement combined with bringing criminal justice stakeholders (legislators, business leaders, community advocates, policy experts, MDOC, nonprofits, government agencies, probation and parole, justice-involved individuals) together. This task is much like cooking a gumbo — it’s prepared in a large pot and is a mixture of many ingredients.
The task is to organize these stakeholders to work collaboratively and address the unique needs of the 9,000 individuals on parole in Mississippi. This number has the potential to increase due to the passage of SB 2795, which expanded parole eligibility.
Right on Crime intends to implement a series of Employer Engagement forums throughout Mississippi. These forums will help build the business case for hiring the formerly incarcerated. Hopefully this platform will also serve as an opportunity to recognize and expand on what efforts are working, as well as to address areas that need improvement.
Additionally, these forums will help to inform employers about the critical role they play when they hire the formerly incarcerated. Unemployment is a key predictor of recidivism, and second-chance hiring is important to reducing this cycle.
I look forward to rolling up my sleeves alongside stakeholders, lawmakers, and anyone willing to join the effort to make reentry readiness a reality.