Local Criminal System: Moves Like 'Quicksand,' Leading to 'Unintended Punishment' | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Local Criminal System: Moves Like 'Quicksand,' Leading to 'Unintended Punishment'

Hinds County Public Defender Michele Purvis Harris said that immediately upon arrest, the media tend to focus on the criminal, skewing perceptions of the magnitude of the crime problem in Jackson.

Hinds County Public Defender Michele Purvis Harris said that immediately upon arrest, the media tend to focus on the criminal, skewing perceptions of the magnitude of the crime problem in Jackson. Photo by Imani Khayyam.

— The local criminal-justice system is slow-moving, lacks coordination, and pulls and keeps offenders inside it like "quicksand," participants at Mayor Tony Yarber's Criminal Justice Reform Task Force meeting said yesterday. The task force, formed in March, is meeting regularly in Jackson Police Department headquarters to discuss root and systemic problems of crime in the city and brainstorm for solutions.

Jennifer Case, an assistant U.S. attorney, said that the system doesn't seem to have someone who is there for criminals upon re-entry, helping with education, employment or family resources, which leads them back to the circumstances that may lead them back into the criminal cycle.

"There seems to be a bit of quicksand around the system, and I would classify that as unintended punishment," Case said.

"The system does not seem to have an entity who's responsible at the re-entry phase. We have law enforcement who are responsible for identifying the crime, we have prosecutors who work to hold criminals accountable, we have judges and court systems who mete out the punishment, and the prisons that ensure that incarceration occurs, but we don't have somebody who then says, 'Now that you're leaving, here are the resources to get you back on your feet.'"

About half the members of the 30-member task force did not attend, including Yarber. The task force is still gathering the concerns that need to be addressed, and each participant spoke about their priorities. Common issues were the need for rehabilitation programs, mental-health services, education and youth programs, as well as opportunities for employment. The task force is working with the Mississippi Urban Research Center of Jackson State University to build a data-driven plan to address the core issues around local crime.

In the second draft of the Statement of the Problem, which is the first tier of a potential two- to three-year plan, members of the task force submitted statements about specific causes of crime. These issues include the system moving slowly from arrest to indictment, a lack of rehabilitative programs for incarcerated individuals, and a lack of economic resources and infrastructural decay.

Hinds County Public Defender Michele Purvis Harris said that immediately upon arrest, the media tend to focus on the criminal, skewing perceptions of the magnitude of the crime problem in Jackson. She said the time spent in jail could influence their futures, as some can't afford bonds because they work minimum-wage jobs, or they lose their jobs and resources once they're out.

"When someone can't make $1,000 bond, that lets you know that there is a real problem," she said. "One hundred dollars stands between them and the door."

Jackson Police Chief Lee Vance said accountability is one of the best motivators and that all members of the task force have their roles to play in preventing crime. He said there are some issues that are out of their control, such as drug addiction, that tears families apart. He hopes that the task force can examine and find creative ways to solve these issues, as well as those stated and hold each other accountable as public servants.

"If there's something that I can do better as the police chief, tell me," he said. "If it's something that I can do better to make me a team player, tell me. If there are ways that we can improve as a law enforcement agency, tell me. We are committed to doing that, because in the end, I understand that what I signed up for is to keep the public safe. That's our primary responsibility."

Email Deputy News Editor Maya Miller at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @mayalmiller.

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