Mississippi

Despite recent reforms, new criminal procedure rules, and successful litigation, the practice of cash bail for low-level offenses still keeps many individuals who await trial in jail—or in debt.[1] As of May 2019, more than 5,700 people were incarcerated in local jails in Mississippi, with 2,750 of those detainees having been in jail longer than 90 days, and 800 of those detainees having been in jail for a year or longer.  Last year BLAST Mississippi created a report based on interviews of judges and public defenders discussing some of the primary issues involved in the cash bail system in Mississippi.  That report will be used by the Mississippi Office of the State Public Defender in a training for Mississippi public defenders on the flaws of the bail system in October.[2] 

As part of BLAST Mississippi 2021-22, you will work closely with the Mississippi Office of State Public Defender to follow up on the research objectives of last year and respond to additional feedback from public defenders collected at the October training. You will participate in the need-finding process and help to craft the details of a field research project alongside trip leaders, community partners, and in-state justice advocates. On a broad level, the project will check-in on the impact of the October training on public defense practices in the state. It will also seek to add depth to the research done last year on the flaws in Mississippi’s bail system, including the impact on individuals and communities, and the extreme variation in representation and process afforded to clients across different counties in the same state. 

If we are able to travel, we will participate in court observations to collect data on release conditions and bail for those awaiting trial in multiple counties. We may also seek to conduct interviews with directly impacted people and other system stakeholders such as judges and public defenders. We will then collaborate to analyze data, identify trends, and draft a report synthesizing our findings. If we are unable to travel, we will conduct virtual interviews and seek additional sources of information and data.

Over the course of the year, you will also attend regular meetings in which we will explore Mississippi’s unique history and criminal legal system. We will hear from a variety of guest speakers on the criminal legal and bail systems and their work or experiences within those systems. We also hope to meet and collaborate with both Mississippi law students and students at Berkeley working on pretrial incarceration issues in the Bay Area.

Time Commitment: If we are able to travel, this trip will take place primarily over Spring Break 2021. In addition, we anticipate that the trip participants will have bi-weekly trainings/meetings with some social events throughout the school year. Trainings will likely be every other week in the 12:45-2:00 lunch slot. You will be expected to participate in fundraising (events and online), but there is no required minimum amount to raise. 

In addition, there may be additional pro-bono work students will have the opportunity to participate in after spring break. This work will likely include summarizing our findings for a report based on the research we perform. While the exact timing of this work is not clear, this will be optional and will not interfere with students’ ability to finish spring semester studies or prepare for final exams.

For more information, please contact the student leaders at miss.blast@berkeley.edu.

[1] Jimmie E. Gates, No cash for bail could mean months in jail. Innocence, guilt irrelevant, Mississippi Clarion Ledger (June 21, 2019), https://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/politics/2019/06/21/cash-bail-bond-means-long-jail-waits-poor-report-mississippi-bail-fund-collective-raising-money/1511457001; Joseph Neff, Petty Charges, Princely Profits, The Marshall Project (July 13, 2018), https://www.themarshallproject.org/2018/07/13/petty-charges-princely-profits.
[2] BLAST Mississippi 2020-21, Pretrial Conditions of Release in Mississippi (April 2021), https://www.law.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/BLAST-Mississippi-2021-Report.pdf.