ALTERNATIVES TO PRISON

There are alternatives to prison when a person is convicted or pleads guilty to a crime in Mississippi. How often these alternatives depends on a lot of factors like where the crime took place, who is prosecuting the case, and how hard the attorney for the accused works. Personally, I do not think that alternatives to prison are used often enough. I have been an attorney for over 29 years and I have seen far to many people go to jail who I felt needed a second chance. I posted a Blog earlier today talking about what happens after a plea of guilty or finding of guilt by a jury. Generally, if it is a serious crime, the probability of the person going to jail is high. Less serious crimes will depend on the facts and circumstances.

Alternatives are available to prison. Mississippi Law permits probation for most offenders. On a misdemeanor probation cannot be more than 2 years. For a felony it can go up to 5 years and many counties impose 5 years probation automatically. In some rare instances the person might get their probation terminated early. When a Court imposes probation there are a range of conditions the court can impose. Some of the standard conditions are: You cannot commit another crime; no possession or use of drugs or alcohol; stay away from other people who are convicted; get a G.E.D. education; pay all the fines and court costs; allow the probation officer to visit at home or work; work at a job if possible; and any other condition the Judge finds reasonable. If you just stay out of trouble a person can typically stay on good terms with his probation officer.

There are two programs available under Mississippi Law. One is called Deferred Adjudication and the other is Pretrial Diversion. While the programs have differences, both allow the person convicted to go on probation and if they successfully complete their probation and conditions the criminal charges are dismissed and expunged. Expunged means your arrest record is clean. These two programs are not always offered in every county. Some counties only use Deferred Adjudication and other only use Pretrial Diversion. There are reasons but those reasons are beyond the scope of this Blog. And there are some counties that rarely like to use either. It usually takes a considerable amount of work to get a person on one of these programs in some counties.

The is another program called RID. That stands for the Regimented Inmate Discipline Program. The disadvantage of this program is that it is offered in prison. This is the “boot camp” program so popular in the late 1980’s. My understanding is that the Federal Corrections system dropped the program because they discovered it was not helpful. I have not personally checked to see if that is true. A person sentenced under RID must go to a special camp at Parchman. The boot camp lasts from 6-9 months and if it is successfully completed then the person is placed on probation instead of staying in prison.

Mississippi also has a system of Intensive Home Detention where an ankle bracelet is used to monitor the offender. I see very little Intensive Home Detention in Mississippi. It is used in 3rd Offense DUI cases because it is treated as confinement. It could be used more often but the cost of the bracelet can get expensive for the average person. We have in Mississippi some great alternatives to incarceration if District Attorneys would offer these more and Judges would accept them.

The last thing I wish to discuss is the Drug Courts. These are Special Courts used for drug possession cases. There are limits to the Courts but from what I can tell they are being used to help people who have drug charges and drug problems and who want help. The Drug Courts meet from every week to every month. It is similar to probation and if a person successfully completes the program his charges are dropped and record expunged. I would like to mandatory Drug Courts in every county so more people would have an alternative to incarceration and a life long criminal record. I hope this helps your understanding of some of the alternatives sentencing available in Mississippi.

Merrida Coxwell is a senior partner at Coxwell & Associates, a highly respected criminal defense firm in Jackson, Mississippi. Merrida is AV rated by Martindale Hubbell, which is the highest rating for skill and ethics. If you have a problem don’t settle for less.

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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