Crime rates from 1989 until 1993.

CATEGORY: Legislature

AUTHOR: BOBBY

Crime rates from 1989 until 1993.

Total crimes*

Mississippi 25.7 percent increase

Nationally 4.5 percent decrease

Property crimes

Mississippi 24.4 percent increase

Nationally 7.7 percent decrease

Motor vehicle thefts

Mississippi 87 percent increase

Nationally 4 percent decrease

Robbery

Mississippi 77.9 percent increase

Nationally 9.8 percent increase

Violent crimes

Mississippi 34.9 percent increase

Nationally 12.5 percent increase

Burglary

Mississippi 12.3 percent increase

Nationally 13.9 percent decrease

Murder rate

Mississippi 13.5 per 100,000 population

Nationally 9.5 per 100,000 population

* The crime rate include felonies – violent and nonviolent.

Source: Compiled from FBI statistics.

Fourth in a series

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – The answers to fighting Mississippi’s growing crime rate are as diverse as the state legislators in the Capitol trying to grapple with the problem.

Those answers include:

– Giving criminals, especially juveniles, tougher sentences.

– Placing more of an emphasis on early childhood intervention.

– Creating more work programs for inmates.

– Reforming the welfare system.

– Revamping the court system and placing additional officers on the streets.

Legislators will be trying to decide what to do in each of these areas during the upcoming session, which begins Tuesday.

State leaders already have indicated that they will place a high priority on trying to curtail Mississippi’s ever-increasing crime rate. Rep. Tim Ford of Tupelo, who is expected to be elected to his third term as speaker of the House, and Lt. Gov.-elect Ronnie Musgrove of Batesville have agreed to continue the Select Committee on Juvenile and School-related Crime that was created during the past session. The special committee was formed to attack the issue of juvenile crime.

Statistics indicate such committees and other crime-fighting measures are needed in Mississippi. While most other states were experiencing a decline in crime, Mississippi had the fastest growing rate in the nation from 1989 until 1993, according to FBI reports. Mississippi’s rate of growth in crime was 25.5 percent, while nationwide there was a 4.5 percent decrease.

During the past two sessions, the Legislature has enacted numerous laws designed to curtail the crime rate increase.

“The problem is that we cannot make crime stop overnight,” Ford said. “We have added new detention facilities (for juveniles) and created harsher punishments and it hasn’t stopped. At least the statistics indicate it hasn’t stopped.”

But stopping crime, Ford and Musgrove say, will be a top legislative priority. They also agree that the Select Committee on Juvenile and School-related Crime will play a key role during the next four years in whatever the Legislature does in the area of fighting crime.

Prevention less costly

The committee, chaired last session by Sen. Bennie Turner of West Point, made numerous proposals that passed the Legislature. But few of them, Turner said in an earlier interview, dealt with prevention, which he said is crucial to curtail the growing crime problem.

Others agree.

“We are in a great crime wave,” said Rep. David Gibbs, also of West Point. “The prevention of crime costs less in the long run. We will get to the point where we cannot pay for prisons.

“We need to provide organized activity for young people. Then kids are not just out on their own doing what they want to do.”

Gibbs said more activities, such as the West Point Boys and Girls Clubs, are needed.

He added, “I really think we need to key in on the young parent and really key in on the preschoolers. We need more structured programs for the parents to let them know what type of behavior their children need to learn.”

Perhaps programs such as the one Gibbs was referring to will be considered by the Select Committee on Juvenile Crime. But Ford and Musgrove agree that during the upcoming session the Select Committee will not get many new proposals passed because of tight budgetary concerns.

“Developing a plan is as important as anything we do,” Musgrove said. “All the things we are trying to accomplish do not come about overnight. We cannot address everything in a short period of time.”

What the Legislature has addressed thus far is costly. Because of those crime-fighting measures that must be paid for during the upcoming budget year, it will be difficult to pass many new programs in the 1996 session.

Programs such as building and staffing more than 5,700 new prison beds that will be open by the end of 1996, creating alternative schools for problem children, building new juvenile detention facilities and other measures are costly.

And Steve Puckett, the commissioner of the Department of Corrections, predicted an increase from 12,294 prisoners as of June 1995 to more than 22,000 by the year 2000. Adding to that increase will be the law the Legislature passed last year mandating prisoners serve 85 percent of their sentence.

The Legislature also has passed laws requiring inmates to wear striped outfits that are more indicative of prison uniforms, to take away individually owned televisions, stereos and weights from prisoners and to remove air conditioners from the prisons. The Legislature also lowered the age at which a youth can be tried as an adult for many crimes and has passed laws making parents responsible for certain action of their children.

Despite all those laws and more, legislators said they hear from the public that more is needed.

In trying to answer the demands from the public, the Legislature will consider establishing a uniform youth court system statewide to handle juvenile offenders. The Legislature also will look at a study to see which circuit court districts need additional prosecutors to handle a backlog of cases.

The governor’s crime-fighting agenda

Legislators are not the only ones who will make proposals during the upcoming session to deal with crime.

Gov. Kirk Fordice also has his own legislative agenda in the area of crime.

Fordice wants to mandate the death penalty for people who sell drugs to children, to allow a petition drive to recall judges and to expand his welfare reform proposals.

Fordice said ending the cycle of welfare dependency will go a long way in reducing crime.

“What I am concerned about is the continuing production of children that nobody wants to take any responsibility for raising,” Fordice said earlier. “That is my concern. As long as I am here, I will work just as hard as I can to do something about it.

“I think by making these welfare reform moves, we are getting right at the cause of crime in Mississippi. This is an element of it. We will continue to work on other elements of it.”

Fordice believes the expansion of the Work First program will help alleviate the crime problem. Work First requires most people receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children benefits to work to receive those funds.

Most legislators also said they are in favor of expanding the program, which originated in the Legislature. But many say they want to study the results of the program in the six pilot counties.

Another Fordice welfare reform proposal is requiring the name of the father to be placed on a child’s birth certificate.

“There is no reason that shouldn’t pass on the first day,” Fordice said earlier.

Coming Tuesday: Session begins.

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