Mississippi editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal on criminal justice reform:
As he enters his final year in office, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is pushing hard to leave his legacy in an unexpected area.
Bryant, a former sheriff’s deputy in Hinds County, is staking much of his final political capital to lead the charge on criminal justice reform in the Magnolia State. It’s an effort we believe will greatly benefit Mississippi’s future.
And it’s not a charge that prognosticators would have anticipated from Bryant, who, as a member of the state House, pushed for a law requiring inmates to serve 85 percent of their sentences in state prison. The two-term governor cites a number of reasons for his change of heart.
One is the rising cost of incarceration, including the pressure to continually build new jails and prisons to accommodate large numbers of inmates. According to the organization Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the U.S. built, on average, a new prison every 10 days between 1990 and 2005. That’s a tremendous expenditure of taxpayer dollars.
Bryant also cited his experience in law enforcement for helping him realize the need for flexibility in sentencing.
During the inaugural Mississippi Summit on Criminal Justice Reform, held in Jackson, Bryant noted there are two camps of inmates- those who need to be in prison forever and “those we’re mad at.”
“If you break in my car and steal it, I’m going to be really mad at you,” he said, as quoted by the Jackson Free Press. “But you probably don’t need to be in prison for the next 20 years.”
Criminal justice reform has gained national momentum, with 34 states having taken action since 2001 to change or reduce laws requiring mandatory minimum sentences. On the national level, the First Step Act, which would make a number of reforms, has strong bipartisan Congressional support. Among its backers is President Trump, a close ally of Bryant’s who held a November roundtable in Gulfport to tout the bill.
While it’s clear that Bryant will push for state reforms in the upcoming legislative session, it’s unclear exactly what they will be. According to the Associated Press, they could include allowing people to wipe out criminal records and letting officials reconsider long sentences handed down in the past. Other possibilities include improving re-entry programs for people in prison, trying to divert people who are mentally ill from the criminal system and cutting sentences for drug crimes.
The main question is whether the legislature will have the courage to address the issue during an election year. We implore them to do so.
No one will accuse Bryant of becoming soft on crime. Instead, these reforms are common-sense measures that return prisons to their mission of rehabilitation. Mississippi must act on them.
The Greenwood Commonwealth on a study that explores child seizures:
Public opinion in Mississippi remains firmly against the idea of legalizing marijuana. Fortunately that did not prevent a six-month trial at the University of Mississippi Medical Center that is using an ingredient in marijuana to treat children with severe epilepsy or other forms of uncontrollable seizures.
The Legislature amended state law four years ago to allow the study, but navigating federal regulations on the use of marijuana for medical research delayed the treatment until this October.
Dr. Brad Ingram, a pediatric neurology specialist at UMMC, said the big hurdle was convincing the agencies to allow an ingredient in marijuana to be given to children. Research involving the drug typically is limited to adults.
Ten children between the ages of 8 and 19 are participating in the UMMC study. Ingram told The Associated Press that their medical problems are so severe that they may not be able to sleep, walk or do other routine tasks. Current medications on the market have not helped, he added.
The ingredient used in the study is cannibidiol. It’s extracted from a special type of marijuana plant that has a high concentration of the compound — and a low concentration of THC, the ingredient that gets smokers high.
Ingram hopes the study provides information on whether cannibidiol is safe, how it interacts with other medications and whether it will help patients with severe seizures.
A number of states already allow the use of marijuana for medical treatments. It would be a tremendous irony if research in one of the states that opposes this idea leads the way to controlling maladies that afflict children.
The Daily Leader on the victims of Sandy Hook:
The highlight in history from The Associated Press recently read: On Dec. 14, 2012, a gunman with a semi-automatic rifle killed 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, then committed suicide as police arrived; the 20-year-old had also fatally shot his mother at their home before carrying out the attack on the school.
It is hard to imagine that sort of hate or disregard for another human, especially 6- and 7-year-old children. No motive was ever determined in the massacre, but documents released include writings by the shooter: “I incessantly have nothing other than scorn for humanity,” the Hartford Courant reported. “I have been desperate to feel anything positive for someone for my entire life.”
On one handwritten list titled “Problems,” the shooter details a range of grievances including lights that are too bright and his hair touching his brother’s towel, The Associated Press reported.
“I am unable to distinguish between my problems because I have too many,” the shooter wrote.
It is clear he had deteriorating mental health problems, was isolated and was obsessed with violence. A report by a Connecticut child advocate said those things, combined with access to weapons, was a “proved recipe for mass murder.”
But that combination does not always result in tragedy. The nation, and especially the family members of those slain, will likely never fully understand what drove the shooter to murder on that day.
But we owe it to those children and teachers to keep searching for answers. We owe it to them — and to students and teachers everywhere — to find ways to keep schools safe.
Sandy Hook was not the first school shooting. It was not the last. But the slaughter of 6- and 7-year-olds sticks with us years later because it seems unimaginably horrific. Let’s hope it continues to remain with us. It would be a tragedy if the nation forgets the slaughter of these innocent lives and does nothing to ensure it won’t continue to happen.