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.

To investigate this issue, BLAST-Mississippi students will have the rare opportunity to work with the Mississippi Office of State Public Defender to observe hearings in courts that set release conditions and bail for those awaiting trial. Students will collect data on issues including individuals’ access to judges following arrests and other due process concerns. Students will then collaborate to analyze data, identify trends, and work after the trip to draft a report synthesizing these findings. Over the course of the trip, students will also have a chance to participate in activities exploring Mississippi’s unique history and culture and to hear from a variety of guest speakers, all with a focus on civil rights.

[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.

Time Commitment: In addition to the entirety of Spring Break 2020, we anticipate that the trip participants will have monthly trainings/meetings with some social events throughout the school year. Trainings will likely be once a month in the 12:45-2:00 lunch slot. Students will be expected to participate in fundraising (events and online), but there is no required minimum amount that they have to raise.

In addition, students will work on the report summarizing our findings after Spring Break. While the exact timing would depend on participants’ schedules and our client’s needs, we anticipate that work should be completed in the weeks following the end of the Spring semester.

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