Editor’s note: The League of Women Voters-East Central Mississippi posed the following question to Michael Grace and Kassie Coleman, candidates for district attorney for the 10th Circuit Court. Grace, a Democrat, will face Coleman, a Republican, in the Nov. 5 general election.
What do you see as the most pressing issue impacting District 10? What job and life experiences, skills, and values would you draw upon to effect change on this issue?
Michael Grace: A wholistic approach to criminal justice reform
Among the most pressing issues facing the 10th District are lack of accountability and lack of equitable sentencing. Philosopher Edmund Burke is quoted as stating, “among a people generally corrupt, liberty cannot long exist.” Throughout our campaign, I have come into contact with many residents who feel that our current political and justice system benefits the fiscal elite at the expense of and even in spite of the average citizen. In researching cases tried in the 10th District, there seems to be overwhelming evidence that suggests that sentences are not equitable or comparable across races and social classes and this gravely impacts the perception of our criminal justice system, but most importantly it breaches the guaranteed rights of our citizens.
In addition, this type of haphazard sentencing affects our economy. As a both a prosecutor and defense attorney, I have seen personally how tax dollars are wasted in the operation of our criminal justice system. According to a report released last month by the Mississippi Department of Corrections, 35.91% of inmates incarcerated have only drug offenses or non-violent offenses.
One of my first clients was a first-time drug offender who was unable to afford bond and thus sat in prison for over a year which, according to the MDoC, cost nearly $50 per day and nearly $18,000 for the entire year. By using a much more cost-effective diversionary tool such as an addiction or counseling program, that money could have been budgeted for schools, roads, or any number of community projects. As District Attorney, I want to take a more wholistic approach to criminal justice reform that will restore trust in local government, will treat everyone equally, and will make our communities more viable for future growth.