- Worked for the Southern Poverty Law Center from 2011-2019
- Was elected District Attorney of Hinds County, Mississippi in 2019
- Received massive financial support in his 2019 DA campaign from George Soros
- Believes in a soft-on-crime approach emphasizing alternatives to incarceration
From 2006-2010, Owens worked in private practice for the Butler Snow LLP law firm in Jackson, Mississippi. According to its website, Butler Snow “strives to be a champion of diversity and inclusion.” Years after Owens had worked there, the firm described the high-profile deaths of African Americans like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery as events that “exposed the wounds of a centuries long struggle with racism and hatred in this country.”
Since 2012, Owens has served as a Lieutenant for the U.S. Navy Reserve, primarily involved with geopolitical analysis, intelligence and counterintelligence.
From 2011-2019, Owens worked for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as its Mississippi Managing Attorney and its Chief Policy Counsel. In 2019, Owens spearheaded SPLC’s effort to persuade Mississippi legislators to reject the Convention of the States application. As ConventionOfStates.com describes this initiative and its goals: “Article V of the U.S. Constitution gives states the power to call a Convention of States to propose amendments. It takes 34 states to call the convention and 38 to ratify any amendments that are proposed. Our convention would only allow the states to discuss amendments that ‘limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, impose fiscal restraints, and place term limits on federal officials.’”
In 2019, Owens, who had no prior experience as a prosecutor, ran for the office of District Attorney of Hinds County, a central part of the Jackson, Mississippi metropolitan area. His “decarceral” reform agenda called for: (a) the end of “mass incarceration”; (b) a refusal to prosecute various recreational drug crimes like possession of marijuana; (c) the pursuit of alternatives to traditional jail sentencing for criminals; (d) termination of the cash bail system; and (e) a heightened emphasis on “police accountability.”
During an interview in late May 2019, Owens articulated how his view of human nature affected his approach to criminal justice: “I don’t think there are bad people. I think people do bad things. I don’t think any of us are reflective of the worst thing we’ve ever done. So as a prosecutor, I think that gives me a unique perspective of [whether it is] worth the state of Mississippi or Hinds County paying tens of thousands of dollars to incarcerate this individual.”
In a separate interview in early July 2019, Owens re-emphasized that his plan to repair a “broken” criminal-justice system would involve the deprioritizing of drug crimes and, by extension, a dramatic reduction of incarceration rates: “I do think that there are a lot of individuals who don’t need to be in prison, whether it be for … health issues or addiction. And there are certainly a lot of individuals in a state like Mississippi who don’t need to be in prison for the length of time that they are.”
In the same interview, Owens lamented that certain felony convictions in Mississippi could “cause someone to lose the right to vote,” an outcome that he claimed was racist at its core: “… Justice is not just about conviction, because we realize that when individuals are engaged in society, they are more inclined to be productive individuals. When we ostracize individuals as we have in Mississippi—tens of thousands of individuals, permanently—you’re creating a class system that district attorneys can do something about. That will be one of my initiatives, with district attorneys who feel the same way. If enough people are aware of this, we can circumvent their racist, Jim Crow-era law that continues to punish individuals for decades.”
Owens’ campaign for DA received endorsements from such notables as Jackson, Mississippi Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, musical artist John Legend, and Shaun King, a Black Lives Matter activist who also founded Real Justice PAC, an organization dedicated to electing “civil rights-minded prosecutors who use the powers of their office to reduce mass incarceration, police violence, and injustice.” Real Justice actively recruits leftwing lawyers to run for election as District Attorneys who will then strive to “transform a criminal legal system that is racist, oppressive, and preys on the poor and marginalized.” Moreover, the organization works to “protect elected prosecutors against assaults on their offices from racist police groups and ultra-wealthy conservatives.”
Owens’ most significant support during his campaign for DA came from leftist multibillionaire George Soros of New York. Through his Mississippi Justice & Public Safety PAC, Soros quietly provided Owens with $500,000 in funding. According to Influence Watch, this political action committee was created in 2019 as the Mississippi affiliate of the extensive “Safety and Justice” network that Soros had established to finance leftwing Democrat DA candidates nationwide.
Owens won the Democratic Party primary in August 2019, garnering 52% of the vote in defeating fellow Democrat attorneys Stanley Alexander and Darla Palmer. With no officially declared Republicans or Independents vying for the office of DA, Owens’ victory in the primary guaranteed him a win in the November general election..
In October 2019. a number of women publicly accused Owens, who had left the SPLC office in Jackson four months earlier, of having sexually harassed them during his tenure there. They alleged that Owens had created a toxic work environment by making degrading comments about the women’s physical appearance, touching them in an inappropriate manner, and making additional unwanted advances that were both physical and verbal in nature. One complainant alleged that by the time she began working at SPLC’s Jackson office in late 2018, the organization “had long been on notice of complaints that Mr. Owens was a sexual predator who targeted subordinate female employees.” Owens was also accused of having used race as a factor in making certain work-related decisions. As one former SPLC employee put it: “Jody has ruined a lot of lives for women…. the SPLC has known about his behavior for a very long time.” Owens, for his part, denied any wrongdoing.
In May 2021, a Hinds County Circuit Judge issued a directed verdict that dismissed a case against Jackson police officers Desmond Barney and Lincoln Lampley, both of whom had been indicted for second-degree murder in relation to the January 2019 death of a 62-year-old black criminal suspect named George Robinson. The judge concluded that the evidence presented in the case would have been inadequate to put before a jury, even for a lesser charge like manslaughter. “There was no proof presented that at any time, the defendants were conspiring to commit any unlawful act against Mr. Robinson,” the judge stated. In response to the judge’s ruling, Owens, who had presented the case to the Hinds County grand jury that indicted the officers, voiced surprise and disappointment: “It was our hope that the case would go forward to the jury, and the jury would render the verdict…. Unfortunately, the judge decided today that the case would not go forward to verdict. And that she issued a very direct verdict for the defendants.”
After Owens took office as Hinds County DA in January 2020, the city of Jackson — one of Hinds County’s two county seats — experienced a dramatic increase in homicides. Indeed, the number of homicides-per-100,000 residents rose from 45 in 2019, to more than 80 in 2020, to 99.5 in 2021 – by far the highest rate of any city in the United States, and approximately 15 times greater than the overall national rate of 6.5. Prior to the start of Owens’ term as DA, the all-time, single-year record for homicides in Jackson was 92, set in 1995. That record was obliterated by the 130 homicides that occurred in 2020, and again by the 152 that took place in 2021.