- Confidentiality and Expungement — Mississippi Allows Expungement of Certain Felony Convictions: Mississippi enacted legislation to allow individuals who were under the age of 18 at the time of conviction to petition the court for expungement of their records five years after the successful completion of all terms and conditions of their sentences. Certain offenses, such as rape, sexual battery, manslaughter, carjacking, burglary, cyber stalking, exploitation of children, armed robbery, or other felonies deemed a violent crime or distribution of a controlled substance, are ineligible for expungement. H.B. 1043/Act No. 557, signed into law April 25, 2013; effective July 1, 2013.
- School-to-Prison Pipeline — Department of Justice Reaches Consent Decree with Mississippi School District that Violated Constitutional Rights of Youth: The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Meridian School District reached a consent decree regarding the district’s denial of substantive and procedural due process to youth through its over- and misuse of arrests and law enforcement intervention. According to the DOJ’s investigation, youth were arrested in school for minor infractions; police arrested youth in schools without investigating the offense at issue; judges rubber stamped cases, issuing detention orders without due process; youth did not receive adequate representation in court; and youth of color and students with disabilities were overwhelmingly affected by the constitutional violations. The consent decree requires the school district to establish safe and inclusive learning environments, provide supports and interventions before removing students from school, limit the removal of students from classrooms as a disciplinary measure, ensure that disciplinary consequences are fair and consistent, establish clear guidelines for law enforcement interventions, create a monitoring and accountability system using data, and train teachers and administrators with the tools to manage schools and classrooms safely and effectively. John Barnhardt, et al. and United States of America v. Meridian Municipal Separate School District, et al., Civil Action No. 4:65-cv-01300-HTW-LRA (S.D. Miss. March 22, 2013).
- Alternatives to Detention and Youth Prisons — Mississippi Passes Juvenile Detention Reform Act: The Mississippi Legislature passed a comprehensive juvenile detention reform law, a collaborative initiative with the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI). The legislation addresses both placement of youth in detention (e.g., youth court judges are now required to issue a written order before a child may be taken into custody) and conditions (e.g., facilities must develop policies that limit the circumstances when a youth can be confined to a cell). Additionally, the legislation established the Juvenile Detention and Alternatives Task Force to support the expansion of detention alternatives and recommend licensing standards for detention facilities throughout Mississippi. S.B. 2598/Act No. 564, signed into law May 23, 2012; effective July 1, 2012.
- School-to-Prison Pipeline — Mississippi Steps Up Dropout Prevention Efforts, Targets Youth Leaving Juvenile Detention: Mississippi amended its laws relating to the state Office of Dropout Prevention to require local school districts to develop dropout plans based on local needs that create measurable student-centered goals and objectives, target specific subgroups that need assistance meeting graduation requirements, and include dropout recovery initiatives for students ages 17 through 21 who have dropped out of school. Plans must specifically address students who are transitioning from juvenile detention centers back into their home districts. S.B. 2454/Act No. 461, signed into law April 23, 2012; effective July 1, 2012.
- Youth in the Adult System — Mississippi Removes Youth from Walnut Grove Correctional Facility and Creates Youthful Offender Unit for Youth Convicted as Adults: After Mississippi advocates filed a class-action lawsuit against the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility over conditions of confinement, provisions of a subsequent settlement agreement were incorporated into state legislation. In addition to the lawsuit, the facility was simultaneously subject to a U.S. Department of Justice investigation, which found that the conditions at Walnut Grove violated the constitutional rights of youth. The investigation revealed that staff engaged in sexual misconduct with youth, used excessive force, and were deliberately indifferent to the risk of harm youth posed to one another, youth’s mental health needs, and youth’s serious medical needs. The legislation required youth under 22 years old to be removed from Walnut Grove and directed the Department of Corrections (DOC) to establish a youthful offender unit to house youth 17-years-old and younger who have been convicted as adults; youth ages 18 or 19 may also be housed in the Youthful Offender Unit at the discretion of the DOC Commissioner. The Youthful Offender Unit opened in December of 2012; youth housed there must have interactive, structured rehabilitative and/or educational programming and recreational and leisure activities outside of their cells. All programming must be tailored to the developmental needs of adolescents. H.B. 523/Act No. 489, signed into law and effective April 26, 2012.
- School-to-Prison Pipeline — Unwarranted Expulsion Successfully Challenged in Court: The Hinds County School District was sued after a tenth grade student was expelled for throwing a penny that landed on the school bus driver. The lawsuit alleged that the overly harsh, inappropriate disciplinary consequence constituted a violation of the youth’s due process rights. Additionally, the lawsuit challenged the substandard education the youth received at the alternative school he attended after his expulsion. A.H. v. Hinds County School District, Case No. 3:10 cv 43 DPJ-FKB. Settled in spring 2011.
- Alternatives to Detention and Youth Prisons — State Creates Intensive Supervision Program as Alternative to Incarceration: Mississippi’s new intensive supervision program creates community-based alternatives to imprisonment for youth throughout the state. The legislation creates slots for 75 youth in each county to participate in the program. Any youth ordered into the intensive home-based supervision program will receive a comprehensive strength-based needs assessment. Based on the assessment, a multi-disciplinary team—to include the youth’s family whenever possible—will develop an individualized treatment plan defining the supervision and programming. H.B. 420/Ch. 459, signed into law March 20, 2011; effective July 1, 2011.
- Youth in the Adult System — State Extends Jurisdiction of Juvenile Court to 17-Year-Olds: New Mississippi legislation returns 17-year-olds charged with felonies (with the exception of murder, armed robbery and rape) to the original jurisdiction of the juvenile court. Prior to this legislation, all 17-year-olds were automatically prosecuted in adult court for any offense. S.B. 2969/Ch. 542, signed into law April 27, 2010; effective January 1, 2011.
- Mental Health and Substance Abuse — U.S. Department of Justice Instructs Mississippi to Improve Mental Health Services for Youth: On December 22, 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a findings letter compelling Mississippi to reorganize its mental health facilities and departments, while deinstitutionalizing youth and providing community-based services that are more appropriate and cost-effective. The letter was the result of a full investigation that found Mississippi to be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the United States Supreme Court decision, Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999). DOJ found that Mississippi spends more money proportionally on institutional care, and less on community services, than any other state. The letter states that Mississippi’s practices have “led to the needless and prolonged institutionalization of adults and children with disabilities who could be served in more integrated settings in the community with adequate services and supports.” This change will positively affect many of the justice-involved youth in Mississippi who are inappropriately placed in mental health facilities.
- Conditions of Confinement — Forrest County Settles Lawsuit on Conditions and Access: A class-action lawsuit against Forrest County, Mississippi challenged excessive shackling, physical abuse, filthy conditions, and overcrowding at the Forrest County Juvenile Detention Center. The lawsuit also challenged the facility’s denial of access to the federally authorized Protection and Advocacy (P&A) organization for Mississippi; under federal law, P&A organizations have a right to enter facilities, interview youth, and assess conditions. The consent decree regarding conditions addresses intake procedures, staffing and overcrowding, cell confinement, structured programming, disciplinary practices and procedures, use of restraints, use of force, meals and nutrition, clothing, hygiene and sanitation, medical care, mental health care, suicide prevention, family support and interaction, and monitoring. M.T., et al. v. Forrest County, Mississippi, Case No. 2:11-cv-91 KS-MTP (S.D. Miss.) Consent decree related to access: April 2011; consent decree related to conditions: October 12, 2011.
- Probation, Parole, and Reentry — Incarcerated Youth No Longer Forced into Alternative Schools After Release: School districts in Mississippi are no longer required to place youth returning from an out-of-home placement into an alternative school. School districts must individually assess transitioning youth using a strengths and needs assessment that includes a determination of the youth’s academic strengths and deficiencies. The individual assessment must also include a plan for transitioning the youth to a regular education setting at the earliest possible date. H.B. 1178/Ch. 424, signed into law March 16, 2011; effective July 1, 2011.
- Conditions of Confinement — Lauderdale County Settles Lawsuit over Abusive Conditions at Detention Center: Lauderdale County, Mississippi settled a class-action lawsuit that alleged abusive conditions at the Lauderdale Juvenile Detention Center. Youth at the detention center endured physical and mental abuse as they were crammed into small, filthy cells and sprayed with pepper spray for even minor infractions. Most of the youth were allowed to leave their cells for only one or two hours a day. Many had mental illnesses or learning disabilities. The agreement ensures that youth at the detention center can no longer be locked in cells all day; ends the indiscriminate use of pepper spray and mace; requires clean and sanitary conditions; mandates health and mental health screening and treatment; requires adequate educational, rehabilitative, and recreational programs; and ends the use of a chair with mechanical restraints. The settlement additionally establishes the Juvenile Justice Community Advisory Board, which will seek input about court and facility operations from currently and formerly imprisoned youth, and tour the facility regularly. E.W. v. Lauderdale County, Case No. 4:09-cv-137 TSL-LRA (S.D. Miss.), April 30, 2010.
- Conditions of Confinement — Legislature Expands Authority of Juvenile Detention Monitoring Unit: The Mississippi State Legislature expanded the authority of the state’s juvenile detention monitoring unit, which is now responsible for investigating, evaluating, and securing the rights of youth held in juvenile justice facilities, including detention centers, training schools, and group homes, in order to ensure that the facilities operate in compliance with national best practices and state and federal law. The law includes standards for conducting facility-based investigations and a complaint process. The monitoring unit must submit quarterly reports on its investigations. S.B. 2950/Ch. 543, signed into law April 27, 2010; effective July 1, 2010.
- Facility Closures and Downsizing — State Further Limits Use of Secure Confinement: Building on H.B. 1494 from 2009 (see above), Mississippi law now provides that no child who has been adjudicated delinquent for a nonviolent felony or fewer than three misdemeanors may be committed to the state training school. The legislation encourages placement in the least restrictive environment for those youth committed to the state Division of Youth Services. The law will downsize the Oakley Training School and help ensure that youth who commit low-level offenses are not imprisoned. S.B. 2984/Ch. 371, signed into law March 17, 2010; effective July 1, 2010.
- Facility Closures and Downsizing — Nonviolent, First-Time Juvenile Offenders May Not Be Sent to Training School Without Specific Finding from the Court: Mississippi now prohibits courts from sending first-time nonviolent juvenile offenders or youth under the age of 10 to the state training school without first making a specific finding of fact by a preponderance of the evidence. The court must assess “what is in the best rehabilitative interest of the child and the public safety of communities and that there is no reasonable alternative to a non-secure setting and therefore secure commitment is appropriate.” The law also requires the court to make a similar finding of fact by a preponderance of the evidence before it sends a first-time nonviolent youth offender to detention for more than 90 days. H.B. 1494/Ch. 559, signed into law April 17, 2009; effective July 1, 2009.
- Conditions of Confinement — Harrison County Commits to Improving Detention Center Conditions: Harrison County, Mississippi settled a federal class-action lawsuit that sought to end the physical abuse of youth, denial of mental health care for suicidal youth, and other unconstitutional conditions in the Harrison County Juvenile Detention Center. Youth at the detention center were forced to endure shackling, physical assaults by staff, confinement to vermin-infested cells, and overcrowded, unsanitary conditions that resulted in widespread contraction of scabies and staph infections. The detention center also failed to provide youth with adequate medical and mental health care during their confinement. The settlement addresses overcrowding, cell confinement, use of restraints, use of force, suicide prevention, hygiene and sanitation, and staff training. D.W. v. Harrison County, Case No. 1:09-cv-267 LG-RHN (S.D. Miss.), June 24, 2009.
- Alternatives to Detention and Youth Prisons — Legislation Authorizes Community-Based Services: A Mississippi law now specifically authorizes the Department of Human Services to develop regional and community-based juvenile residential facilities and specialized therapeutic programs and facilities. Before the law was passed, there were very few community-based services for youth. Instead, youth were sent to juvenile facilities and specialized therapeutic facilities regardless of how far the facilities were from the youths’ home communities. H.B. 471/Ch. 408, signed into law March 18, 2009; effective July 1, 2009.
- Juvenile Defense and Court Process — Law Strengthens Representation of Youth at Critical Stages: The Mississippi State Legislature specified the critical stages at which juveniles must be represented by counsel, including, but not limited to, detention, adjudicatory and disposition hearings, parole or probation revocation proceedings, and post-disposition matters. The law also specifies that the youth’s attorney “shall owe the same duties of undivided loyalty, confidentiality and competent representation…as is due an adult client.” S.B. 2939/Ch. 536, signed into law April 15, 2009; effective July 1, 2009.
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