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Does Every Crime Deserve a Life Sentence?

Mississippi has a poverty problem. We are the poorest state in the union by a wide margin. We have the lowest gross domestic product, lowest per-capita income, and highest number of people living in poverty. The causes of our poverty are complex and generational. We didn’t arrive here quickly, and we won’t get out quickly, but as I consider root causes and contemplate solutions, I keep coming back to this theme;

In Mississippi, we give up on people far too quickly. When an individual fails, we often make the path to becoming a rehabilitated, productive citizen extraordinarily difficult, and at times, inaccessible.

Take shoplifting for example. According to Mississippi Code 97-17-41, a case of shoplifting in which the merchandise is between $1,000-$5,000 is a felony carrying a charge of grand larceny and is punishable by up to 5-years in Parchman, up to a $10,000 fine, or both. So, a 19-year-old who steals $1,200 worth of electronic equipment may be looking at some prison time. Property crimes (and all crimes for that matter) deserve swift and certain punishment or else Mississippi could end up like San Francisco, where shoplifting, looting, and lawlessness have become commonplace. But if the punishment is complete, the debt to society paid, and rehabilitation is evident, should the offender get a chance to rebuild his life?

In Mississippi, our punishments continue long after the prison sentence ends. After an individual serves their prison sentence, they remain categorized as a convicted felon for life. Virtually every job application, lease agreement, or loan application requires disclosure of felony convictions. Nonviolent felony shoplifters, for example, are forever categorized as a blight on society alongside for more serious offenders like rapists and murderers.

Moreover, Mississippi’s 1890 Constitution imposes a lifetime ban on voting, known as disenfranchisement, for people convicted of certain crimes including forgery, bigamy (the act of marrying someone while still legally married to another), and theft. Why these crimes and not others?

The authors of the 1890 Constitution were explicit that many of the provisions were aimed at disenfranchising Black citizens. “Let’s tell the truth if it bursts the

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