Who Is Eligible for Parole?

The parole laws in Mississippi have gone through several changes in the 29 years since I began practicing law. When I started in October of 1980 almost every prisoner was entitled to parole consideration after he had served 1/4 of his sentence. The Federal Bureau of Prisons also permitted parole. Sometime around the mid-80’s the Federal Government abolished parole and instituted a system where an inmate could earn up to 15% good time off his sentence, but each person sent to prison had to serve at least 85% of the sentence they were given. Not long after the Federal change, Mississippi also instituted the same change. Every person sentenced to prison was required to serve 85% of their sentence. This applied to even the smallest, nonviolent offense.

The changes the Mississippi Legislature made were harsh. Very little attention was given to the human, emotional cost or the financial costs. This 85% rule went on for years until the Department of Corrections asked the Legislature for relief. The State Prison was over flowing with people who could not receive parole and who had to serve 85% of their sentence. People in the corrections field have felt that parole was a useful tool because it gave the inmates a reason to conform their behavior to the rules. Back in the early 80’s I had a conversation with the parole Chairman. He related that about 80 percent of the people at the State Prison were there for nonviolent offenses and roughly 1/2 of that number were in for crimes around $1,000.00 dollars. It cost about $25,000.00 a year to cover the cost of incarceration. When you look at the cost of prison, it makes sense for us as a society to find other alternatives.

The 85% rule has remained in effect for years. Recently, the Mississippi Legislature, acting on the request of the Commissioner of Corrections, reinstated parole for many inmates. Now, inmates sentenced can receive meritorious and earned time and can be paroled after they have served at least 1/4 of their sentence. Parole is not automatic and it is not fair for any attorney to tell an inmate he will or get paroled after sentencing 1/4 of his sentence. You may get parole but it is never guaranteed. Inmates who are sentenced to prison for sex offenses, violent crimes, or enhanced crimes may not be paroled. An enhanced sentence is one where the punishment set by the Legislature can be raised due to some special circumstance. Examples of enhanced sentences are second drug offenders who can have their sentence enhanced, or doubled, or drug offenders who have possession of a weapon. These instances are called enhancement because the penalties can be doubled. Of course inmates sentenced as habitual offenders do not get parole, good time, earned time, or any form of early release. I have written an article on this Blog before describing what constitutes a habitual sentence.

Since the Legislature has allowed parole again I have noticed that the District Attorneys are offering longer sentences in their plea bargain offers. The District Attorneys are assuming that each eligible inmate will get parole so they are increasing their offers of time under the assumption that inmates will get out in 1/4the time. I am not sure this is reasonable since parole is not guaranteed and is a matter for the Parole Board and not the District Attorney. This article is a summary of the parole laws. It has not attempted to cover every aspect. For a more detailed understanding a lawyer must know all the facts and circumstances surrounding an inmate.

Merrida Coxwell is a Jackson, Hinds County lawyer who practices all over Mississippi. His practice centers around criminal defense and serious personal injury. For a consultation call (601) 265-7766 or e-mail merridac@coxwelllaw.com.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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