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Pondering crime and punishment in new year

Natchez and Adams County officials had some really good news to share last week.

Violent crime has dropped in Natchez.

After 2018, an abysmal year for violent crime in Natchez that saw 12 murders in the city and two in the county, 2019 had only three murders. That’s a 75% reduction in murders for Natchez.

Any number of murders, however, is too many, if you ask me, but we are, as they say, imperfect humans who inhabit a fallen world.

The violent crime rate in Natchez fell by 25%, as well.

That’s great news, too.

The good news was no accident but rather is the result of measures put in place by the Natchez Police Department, the Adams County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Mississippi Department of Corrections and several other agencies to implement project EJECT, which stands for Empower Justice, Expel Crime Together.

We definitely want to expel crime together in this community and project EJECT combined with surveillance cameras placed strategically throughout the city has really helped.

That said, 2019 had some violent crimes beyond the three-recorded murders, including one attempted murder, which law enforcement noted in their press conference last Thursday.

However, at least one violent incident remains unsolved in which gunmen ran through the Holiday Apartments complex on Aug. 29, 2019, shooting people at random. Two people were airlifted to a hospital in Jackson and one other person was injured.

Thank goodness nobody was killed in that incident and fortunately it appears to have been an isolated incident.

As good as Project EJECT is, however, it is only as good as our state’s prison system and that is not very good if you have been following recent news events out of the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

Late in December an inmate from Adams County was killed inside a Greene County prison facility. The killing is believed to have been a gang killing. As a result, several other inmates were killed in what is suspected of being gang retaliations inside the state’s prison system, including in the state penitentiary at Parchman.

Since the killings, horror stories have emerged of the conditions inside the state’s prisons, which have been underfunded by the state Legislature for years.

Problems include inadequate guard populations to manage inmates, allegation of corruption among the guards in the prisons, inadequate food supplies, unsanitary conditions, overcrowding and more.

Partially as a result of the deplorable prison conditions, inmates have been getting early releases for years now. Sometimes even violent offenders are released to go back on the streets in cities such as Natchez to commit more violent crimes.

It is past time for the state to deal with the prison problems and apparently governor-elect Tate Reeves, who is being sworn in today, plans to tackle the issue early on.

Let’s wish him much success in his prison reform efforts. That would really be a big boost for Project EJECT.

Scott Hawkins is editor of The Natchez Democrat. Reach him at 601-445-3540 or scott.hawkins@natchezdemocrat.com.