HED:Fordice signs bills to aid prisons, stop illegal videotaping
By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON - A bill that supporters said could reduce the rapidly growing state prison population was signed into law Friday by Gov. Kirk Fordice.
The bill will allow certain nonviolent criminals, who already have served a portion of their sentence, to have their prison time reduced by one day for each three days they work.
Before being eligible for the release program, the classification board of the state Department of Corrections must determine that the inmate has been a model prisoner and is eligible to be labeled as a trusty.
Trusties then are eligible for prison work programs that could reduce their time served. Those programs include working on the prison farm or on the roadways and on public buildings.
The bill is significant, because since the state Legislature passed a truth-in-sentencing bill in 1995, the state prison population has skyrocketed. The law, which requires all felons to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence before being eligible for parole, also has placed a tremendous burden on the state budget.
Proponents of changing the law said that Mississippi is the only state in the nation to have such a tough truth-in sentencing-law for all felons - even those convicted of nonviolent, nondrug-related offenses.
But legislators were reluctant to address the truth-in-sentencing bill, especially during 1999, an election year.
Still, House Penitentiary Chairman Bennett Malone, D-Carthage, said the bill will help.
"This will definitely save millions of dollars," Malone said earlier the session.
The bill takes effect immediately.
Other b ills
The bill was one of several signed Friday by Fordice as he works to approve or veto the hundreds of bills passed by the Legislature this year. Fordice's final deadline to sign or veto bills is April 26.
Bills that are vetoed can be addressed by the Legislature when it convenes again in January.
Another bill approved Friday by the governor would make it a felony to secretly videotape or photograph in a person's home or during any time when a person has a "reasonable expectation of privacy."
The proposal making the secret videotaping and photographing illegal was authored by state Rep. Bill Miles, D-Fulton. Miles said he offered the proposal for legislative consideration after learning of what happened to the family of a former Fulton resident who now lives in Monroe, La.
Gary Wilson, a former Itawamba County resident, and his wife, Susan, have appeared on "20/20" and other national television news programs to talk about how a former neighbor had secretly installed videocameras in their bedroom, bathroom and other locations in their house.
"They were subjected to the videotaping of their most private moments in the most private parts of their house," Miles said.
As it turned out, Miles said the secret videotaping was not illegal in Louisiana. All the former neighbor could be charged with was the theft of electricity.
Miles said research he has conducted indicates that a similar activity also would not be illegal in Mississippi.
Under the bill, which becomes law on July 1, a person secretly videotaping or photographing someone could be charged with a felony.