Wednesday , June 12 2024

First Step Act: Sentencing Reform Finally in Sight in Mississippi and the Nation

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant change of heart on sentencing reform was announced after Trump, who he supports, continued his own agenda to bring about prison reform.

The Governor of Mississippi has had a change of heart. In the past, Gov. Phil Bryant publicly supported long prison sentences. One of the laws he pushed for mandated that offenders serve 85 percent of their sentences. Now, he feels he made that judgement in error.

A Star Tribune article quotes Gov. Bryant as saying, “I began to realize the cost, as lieutenant governor then, of what was happening in the state of Mississippi. The 85 percent rule had done its job and we were filling prisons in Mississippi and having to build more.”

He was born Dewey Phillip Bryant in 1954. He attended Council McCluer High School, a private segregated school that was founded after the Supreme Court desegregated schools in 1969. His early career was in law enforcement. He went on to earn a master’s degree from Mississippi College in Clinton, where he later taught political history. He has also worked as an insurance claim investigator.

Gov. Bryant’s political career is equally varied. He spent five years with the Mississippi House of Representatives, serving as Vice Chair of the House Insurance Committee during this time. He made State Auditor in 1996, a position to which he was repeatedly re-elected. In 2007, became the Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi. In 2012, he became the state’s 64th Governor. He was re-elected in 2015.

His change of heart on sentencing reform was announced after Donald Trump, whom he supports, continued his own agenda to bring about prison reform.

Some people will say Gov. Bryant has grown and changed, used his diverse background, education, and career to see the dawning of a new light. He got on board the modern train, and has seen the error of his past ways. He is now doing the right thing.

Others will say he’s playing the game. Just another politician supporting the man he voted in. Doing what looks good in the moment – but look far enough into his past and you’ll find dubious motives. He did, after all, attend a segregated school.

That’s politics for you. Everything comes under the microscope, but in our humble opinion, this is not the time nor the place to tear apart the reasons behind the decision of Gov. Bryant, or those of the many other politicians, policy makers, influencers, and people in power who are finally making strides on sentencing reform.

The cold hard facts prove that what we’ve been doing for decades isn’t working. Many political platforms are run (and won) on strong family values: “The family is the core of a thriving society. The family way of life must be protected.” So why, then, are we content to have about half of all American families visiting a family member in jail? Why are 1 in 38 adults in the penal system? The current prison system erodes families, targets racial minorities, punishes the poor, and is seen around the world as a failure.

The debate over what to do about our broken system has raged ineffectively for decades. But now, there’s a light on the horizon. Real prison reform is a tangible reality, just within our grasp, thanks to the First Step Act – which is why it is infuriating when people get caught up in who is supporting the Act, instead of what the Act can do for our country.

President Trump supports the Act, and Gov. Bryant wants sentencing reform. Many others in position of power feel the same way. Yes, Trump is the one of the least popular presidents in history and Bryant attended a school that perpetuated racism. Yes, you can find dirt and reasons to dislike many of the people who are putting their influence behind the Act. But this time the political mudslinging should go firmly on the back burner.

Does it matter if President Trump’s support is a strategic political move? Does it matter if Gov. Bryant is doing the popular thing?


What matters is that for the first time, there is a real solution to a problem that has crippled America in so many ways. If the Act becomes a reality, the problems are finally on their way to being solved.

So, for once, let’s set aside our grievances. Let’s stop sharing the dirty dirt found on politicians who don’t support your personal point of view. This time, if we look at the reform itself instead of the reasons for those supporting it, we could have something that benefits all Americans: a justice system that actually works.

Christopher Zoukis, author of Federal Prison Handbook, Prison Education Guide, and College for Convicts, is the Marketing Director of Brandon Sample PLC. He can be found online at,, and

About Christopher Zoukis

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the author of the Federal Prison Handbook., Prison Education Guide, and College for Convicts. He is currently a law student at the University of California, Davis School of Law, where he is a Criminal Law Association and Students Against Mass Incarceration board member, and a research editor for the Social Justice Law Review. Learn more about him at Federal Prison Consultants.

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