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Lawmakers could limit when county officials in Mississippi can jail people awaiting psychiatric treatment

This article was produced for ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network in partnership with Mississippi Today. Sign up for Dispatches to get stories like this one as soon as they are published.

Key Mississippi lawmakers have introduced several bills that would drastically limit when people can be jailed without criminal charges as they await court-ordered psychiatric treatment. 

The proposals follow an investigation by Mississippi Today and ProPublica finding that hundreds of people in the state are jailed without charges every year as they go through the civil commitment process, in which a judge can force people to undergo treatment if they’re deemed dangerous to themselves or others. People who were jailed said they were treated like criminal defendants and received no mental health care. Since 2006, at least 17 people have died after being jailed during the commitment process, raising questions about whether jails can protect people in the midst of a mental health crisis.

Civil rights lawyers contend Mississippi’s practice is unconstitutional because it amounts to punishing people for mental illness, but the state’s civil commitment law allows it. That law spells out the process by which people suffering from severe mental illness can be detained, evaluated and ordered into treatment. Under the law, those people can be held in jail until they’re admitted to a state psychiatric hospital or another mental health facility if there is “no reasonable alternative.” If there isn’t room at a publicly funded facility or open beds are too far away, local officials often conclude that they have no other option besides jail.

“Putting a person in jail because they’re hearing voices and you don’t know what to do with them — that’s not right,” said state Rep. Kevin Felsher, R-Biloxi, one of the lawmakers behind legislation to curtail the practice. The news stories, he said, showed that people are jailed for longer than he thought and that Mississippi is unique in doing so. 

The proposals represent the biggest effort to change the state’s civil commitment process since at least 2010, according to a review of legislation and interviews with mental health advocates. That year, lawmakers standardized the commitment process across the state and gave county officials the option to call on crisis teams before initiating the commitment process. A measure that would have prohibited jail detentions altogether ultimately failed.

A bill proposed by Felsher would allow jail detentions during the commitment process only for “protective custody purposes and only while awaiting transportation” to a medical facility. It would restrict such detentions to 72 hours. 

A bill authored by House Public Health Chairman Sam Creekmore, R-New Albany, chair of the House Public Health and Human Services Committee, would clamp down on the practice even more, allowing counties to jail people without criminal charges only if they are “actively violent” and for no longer than 24 hours. 

The vast majority of the 2,000 jail detentions in 19 counties analyzed by Mississippi Today and ProPublica lasted longer than 24 hours. About 1,200 lasted longer than 72 hours. (Those figures include detentions between 2019 and 2022 for both mental illness and substance abuse; the legislation would address only the commitment process for mental illness.)

Rep. Sam Creekmore, R-New Albany, has proposed a bill that would prohibit jail detentions for people going through the civil commitment process unless they are “actively violent” and would limit such detentions to 24 hours. The vast majority of detentions in 19 counties over four years lasted longer than that, according to an analysis by Mississippi Today and ProPublica. (Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today) Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today

Creekmore’s bill, which passed out of committee without opposition Thursday, aims to reduce unnecessary commitments by generally requiring people to be screened for mental illness before paperwork can be filed to have them committed. Those screenings would be conducted in most cases by community mental health centers — independent organizations, partly funded by state grants, that are supposed to provide mental health care close to home. That bill also would require those organizations to treat people while they’re in jail. 

A bill authored by Sen. Nicole Boyd, R-Oxford, to increase state oversight of community mental health centers contains language similar to Creekmore’s proposal restricting jail detentions. Her bill has been referred to the Judiciary A committee, which is chaired by one of its co-authors, Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula.

The bills would bring Mississippi more in line with other states that allow people going through the civil commitment process to be jailed in limited circumstances. South Dakota permits jail detentions without criminal charges but limits them to 24 hours. Wyoming permits them in an “extreme emergency” and only for 72 hours before a hearing. 

The Mississippi Department of Mental Health says reforming the commitment process is a priority this legislative session. “We don’t want someone to have to wait in jail simply because they need mental health treatment,” said Wendy Bailey, director of the agency, at a January conference attended by county officials from all over the state.

But the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, which represents county governments, has raised questions about whether the bills would force county officials to spend more money. Under state law, counties are responsible for housing residents going through the commitment process until they are admitted to a state hospital. Some local officials contend they don’t have any place other than jail to put people. 

“I think you’ll find all 82 clerks, all 82 sheriffs, all 400 supervisors understand that the jail is not the place they need to be,” said Bill Benson, who as Lee County’s chancery clerk coordinates the commitment process there. “But there has to be a place. If it’s not the jail, there has to be a place available.” 

Derrick Surrette, executive director of the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, said county leaders are “all for” keeping people out of jail while they wait for mental health care. But, he said, they’re concerned that they’ll be forced to pay for treatment in private facilities because there aren’t enough publicly funded beds. None of the proposals would expand publicly funded treatment beds, nor would they provide funding to counties. The association hasn’t taken a position on the bills to limit jail detentions.

“It’s a whole lot of legislation being proposed telling the county and a regional mental facility what to do,” Surrette said. “Is there very much in there telling what the state shall do?”

The Department of Mental Health advises local officials to direct people who need help to outpatient mental health care when appropriate and to rely on the civil commitment process only when needed. If the commitment process can’t be avoided, the department says officials should work with their local community mental health centers to seek alternatives to jail.

A padded cell used to hold people awaiting psychiatric evaluation and court-ordered treatment at the Adams County jail in Natchez, Mississippi. Lacey Robinette Handjis, a 37-year-old hospice care consultant and mother of two, was found dead in one of the jail’s two padded cells in late August, less than 24 hours after she was booked with no criminal charges to await mental health treatment. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

The state has expanded the number of beds in crisis stabilization units, which are designed to provide short-term treatment in a less restrictive setting than state hospitals. Chancery clerks and sheriff’s deputies complain that those facilities frequently refuse to accept people they deem to be violent or in need of additional medical care, though state data shows those refusals are declining. 

An additional bill filed by Felsher would require counties to pay for care at a medical facility if a judge has ordered someone into treatment, no publicly funded bed is available and the person can’t pay for treatment. Although the Mississippi Association of Supervisors hasn’t taken a position on that bill, either, it opposed a similar provision last year because the measure didn’t provide any funding.

At a hearing in November 2022, Felsher asked Benson, the chancery clerk in Lee County, whether he would support his county paying hospitals to treat residents as an alternative to jail. Benson responded that if he did, “My supervisors would hang me.”

Benson said in an interview that it costs just $40 a day on average to jail someone in Lee County. By contrast, Neshoba County, which is among those that contract with private providers, pays between $625 and $675 a day to Alliance Health Center to treat county residents when no public bed is available. 

Felsher said he hopes to expand the availability of public treatment facilities so counties aren’t on the hook except in rare circumstances. But he also said he believes the cost of alternatives can’t justify jailing people who haven’t been charged with crimes.

“We can’t send people with mental illness to jail because the county doesn’t want to pay for it,” he said. “If it is a fight, it’s a fight that I will have. We may not win it, but we’ll have it.”

Staffers with Disability Rights Mississippi say the bills don’t go far enough because they don’t ban jail detentions outright. At least a dozen states, including neighboring Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee, have done so.

Without such a ban, Disability Rights Mississippi staff say they’re planning to sue the state and some counties, alleging the practice is unconstitutional. A federal lawsuit in Alabama led to a ruling in 1984 prohibiting the practice there.

“Mississippi Today’s reporting has revealed the horrifying scope of this problem, including those who have met an untimely death and data to back it up,” said Polly Tribble, the organization’s director. “I hope that, in light of these dire situations, the Legislature will be motivated to address these issues.”

Bailey, head of the state Department of Mental Health, said she was not aware of the possibility of litigation until Mississippi Today asked about it. She said her agency is working to find ways to make sure people get mental health treatment without going through the civil commitment process, and to restrict the use of jail when they do.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Read original article by clicking here.

Lawmakers could limit when county officials in Mississippi can jail people awaiting psychiatric treatment

This article was produced for ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network in partnership with Mississippi Today. Sign up for Dispatches to get stories like this one as soon as they are published.

Key Mississippi lawmakers have introduced several bills that would drastically limit when people can be jailed without criminal charges as they await court-ordered psychiatric treatment. 

The proposals follow an investigation by Mississippi Today and ProPublica finding that hundreds of people in the state are jailed without charges every year as they go through the civil commitment process, in which a judge can force people to undergo treatment if they’re deemed dangerous to themselves or others. People who were jailed said they were treated like criminal defendants and received no mental health care. Since 2006, at least 17 people have died after being jailed during the commitment process, raising questions about whether jails can protect people in the midst of a mental health crisis.

Civil rights lawyers contend Mississippi’s practice is unconstitutional because it amounts to punishing people for mental illness, but the state’s civil commitment law allows it. That law spells out the process by which people suffering from severe mental illness can be detained, evaluated and ordered into treatment. Under the law, those people can be held in jail until they’re admitted to a state psychiatric hospital or another mental health facility if there is “no reasonable alternative.” If there isn’t room at a publicly funded facility or open beds are too far away, local officials often conclude that they have no other option besides jail.

“Putting a person in jail because they’re hearing voices and you don’t know what to do with them — that’s not right,” said state Rep. Kevin Felsher, R-Biloxi, one of the lawmakers behind legislation to curtail the practice. The news stories, he said, showed that people are jailed for longer than he thought and that Mississippi is unique in doing so. 

The proposals represent the biggest effort to change the state’s civil commitment process since at least 2010, according to a review of legislation and interviews with mental health advocates. That year, lawmakers standardized the commitment process across the state and gave county officials the option to call on crisis teams before initiating the commitment process. A measure that would have prohibited jail detentions altogether ultimately failed.

A bill proposed by Felsher would allow jail detentions during the commitment process only for “protective custody purposes and only while awaiting transportation” to a medical facility. It would restrict such detentions to 72 hours. 

A bill authored by House Public Health Chairman Sam Creekmore, R-New Albany, chair of the House Public Health and Human Services Committee, would clamp down on the practice even more, allowing counties to jail people without criminal charges only if they are “actively violent” and for no longer than 24 hours. 

The vast majority of the 2,000 jail detentions in 19 counties analyzed by Mississippi Today and ProPublica lasted longer than 24 hours. About 1,200 lasted longer than 72 hours. (Those figures include detentions between 2019 and 2022 for both mental illness and substance abuse; the legislation would address only the commitment process for mental illness.)

Rep. Sam Creekmore, R-New Albany, has proposed a bill that would prohibit jail detentions for people going through the civil commitment process unless they are “actively violent” and would limit such detentions to 24 hours. The vast majority of detentions in 19 counties over four years lasted longer than that, according to an analysis by Mississippi Today and ProPublica. (Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today) Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today

Creekmore’s bill, which passed out of committee without opposition Thursday, aims to reduce unnecessary commitments by generally requiring people to be screened for mental illness before paperwork can be filed to have them committed. Those screenings would be conducted in most cases by community mental health centers — independent organizations, partly funded by state grants, that are supposed to provide mental health care close to home. That bill also would require those organizations to treat people while they’re in jail. 

A bill authored by Sen. Nicole Boyd, R-Oxford, to increase state oversight of community mental health centers contains language similar to Creekmore’s proposal restricting jail detentions. Her bill has been referred to the Judiciary A committee, which is chaired by one of its co-authors, Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula.

The bills would bring Mississippi more in line with other states that allow people going through the civil commitment process to be jailed in limited circumstances. South Dakota permits jail detentions without criminal charges but limits them to 24 hours. Wyoming permits them in an “extreme emergency” and only for 72 hours before a hearing. 

The Mississippi Department of Mental Health says reforming the commitment process is a priority this legislative session. “We don’t want someone to have to wait in jail simply because they need mental health treatment,” said Wendy Bailey, director of the agency, at a January conference attended by county officials from all over the state.

But the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, which represents county governments, has raised questions about whether the bills would force county officials to spend more money. Under state law, counties are responsible for housing residents going through the commitment process until they are admitted to a state hospital. Some local officials contend they don’t have any place other than jail to put people. 

“I think you’ll find all 82 clerks, all 82 sheriffs, all 400 supervisors understand that the jail is not the place they need to be,” said Bill Benson, who as Lee County’s chancery clerk coordinates the commitment process there. “But there has to be a place. If it’s not the jail, there has to be a place available.” 

Derrick Surrette, executive director of the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, said county leaders are “all for” keeping people out of jail while they wait for mental health care. But, he said, they’re concerned that they’ll be forced to pay for treatment in private facilities because there aren’t enough publicly funded beds. None of the proposals would expand publicly funded treatment beds, nor would they provide funding to counties. The association hasn’t taken a position on the bills to limit jail detentions.

“It’s a whole lot of legislation being proposed telling the county and a regional mental facility what to do,” Surrette said. “Is there very much in there telling what the state shall do?”

The Department of Mental Health advises local officials to direct people who need help to outpatient mental health care when appropriate and to rely on the civil commitment process only when needed. If the commitment process can’t be avoided, the department says officials should work with their local community mental health centers to seek alternatives to jail.

A padded cell used to hold people awaiting psychiatric evaluation and court-ordered treatment at the Adams County jail in Natchez, Mississippi. Lacey Robinette Handjis, a 37-year-old hospice care consultant and mother of two, was found dead in one of the jail’s two padded cells in late August, less than 24 hours after she was booked with no criminal charges to await mental health treatment. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

The state has expanded the number of beds in crisis stabilization units, which are designed to provide short-term treatment in a less restrictive setting than state hospitals. Chancery clerks and sheriff’s deputies complain that those facilities frequently refuse to accept people they deem to be violent or in need of additional medical care, though state data shows those refusals are declining. 

An additional bill filed by Felsher would require counties to pay for care at a medical facility if a judge has ordered someone into treatment, no publicly funded bed is available and the person can’t pay for treatment. Although the Mississippi Association of Supervisors hasn’t taken a position on that bill, either, it opposed a similar provision last year because the measure didn’t provide any funding.

At a hearing in November 2022, Felsher asked Benson, the chancery clerk in Lee County, whether he would support his county paying hospitals to treat residents as an alternative to jail. Benson responded that if he did, “My supervisors would hang me.”

Benson said in an interview that it costs just $40 a day on average to jail someone in Lee County. By contrast, Neshoba County, which is among those that contract with private providers, pays between $625 and $675 a day to Alliance Health Center to treat county residents when no public bed is available. 

Felsher said he hopes to expand the availability of public treatment facilities so counties aren’t on the hook except in rare circumstances. But he also said he believes the cost of alternatives can’t justify jailing people who haven’t been charged with crimes.

“We can’t send people with mental illness to jail because the county doesn’t want to pay for it,” he said. “If it is a fight, it’s a fight that I will have. We may not win it, but we’ll have it.”

Staffers with Disability Rights Mississippi say the bills don’t go far enough because they don’t ban jail detentions outright. At least a dozen states, including neighboring Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee, have done so.

Without such a ban, Disability Rights Mississippi staff say they’re planning to sue the state and some counties, alleging the practice is unconstitutional. A federal lawsuit in Alabama led to a ruling in 1984 prohibiting the practice there.

“Mississippi Today’s reporting has revealed the horrifying scope of this problem, including those who have met an untimely death and data to back it up,” said Polly Tribble, the organization’s director. “I hope that, in light of these dire situations, the Legislature will be motivated to address these issues.”

Bailey, head of the state Department of Mental Health, said she was not aware of the possibility of litigation until Mississippi Today asked about it. She said her agency is working to find ways to make sure people get mental health treatment without going through the civil commitment process, and to restrict the use of jail when they do.

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Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Read original article by clicking here.

Gov. Reeves concerned prior authorization bill will up premiums for state employees

0

A bill to reform Mississippi’s prior authorization process will go into law without the signature of Gov. Tate Reeves.

The Republican governor made a lengthy social media post on Thursday afternoon, explaining why he chose not to put pen to paper on Senate Bill 2140. While Reeves wrote that he doesn’t disagree with the basis of the bill – to speed up the process of health insurance companies deciding whether or not to approve a prescribed procedure, service, or medication – he has concerns over its inclusion of the Mississippi State School Employees’ Life and Health Insurance Plan.

Often referred to as the State Plan, the government-provided insurance covers nearly 190,000 residents and their families and is primarily funded through premiums paid by those insured under the plan. Reeves is worried that SB 2140 could ultimately result in premium increases for those employed by the state.

“…every dollar in increased administrative and benefits costs imposed on the State Plan as a result of Senate Bill 2140 will be passed on to state employees and their families through premium increases,” a portion of the post on X reads. “While the price of a medical procedure generally remains stable over a period of 60 to 180 days, the price of pharmaceuticals can fluctuate wildly during that same period. Senate Bill 2140 limits the ability of the State Plan to quickly adjust the pharmaceuticals covered under the State Plan.”

“This means that the State Plan will be required to provide coverage for more costly drugs despite the fact that cheaper equivalent drugs may come to market or become available. Senate Bill 2140 also requires the State Plan to continue to provide coverage for pharmaceuticals taken by new state employees for a period of at least 90 days after beginning their employment with the state. This is despite the fact that such pharmaceuticals may not be covered under the State Plan and cheaper alternative equivalents are available.”

Today, Senate Bill 2140 – the Mississippi Prior Authorization Reform Act – will become law without my signature.

You may recall, last year, I vetoed Senate

Read original article by clicking here.

Ex-Gov. Phil Bryant Now Targeting Reporter in Defamation Lawsuit Over Welfare Scandal Reporting

A Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter could become the latest defendant in former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant’s ongoing lawsuit against online news publication Mississippi Today.

The Republican politician, who led the state from 2012 to 2020, sued the publication last year over since-retracted remarks its CEO, Mary Margaret White, made onstage at a journalism forum in which she claimed he “embezzled” welfare funds. The lawsuit also cited promotional materials that White and Mississippi Today Editor-in-Chief Adam Ganucheau wrote to promote the publication’s reporting on Mississippi’s $77-million welfare scandal that focused heavily on Bryant.

Now, the former governor’s legal team is seeking to add reporter Anna Wolfe, whose “The Backchannel” series earned the publication a coveted local-reporting Pulitzer Prize last May, as a defendant. The allegations targeted two stories she reported late last December—months after the governor filed his original defamation lawsuit against the newsprofit news outlet and its umbrella organization Deep South Today and its board members.

Read Former Gov. Phil Bryant’s Jan. 3, 2024, filing to add reporter Anna Wolfe as a defendant in his defamation lawsuit.

Wolfe reported on Dec. 19, 2023, that retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre and his business partner, Jake VanLandingham, once sought Bryant’s help getting a $25,000 investment to help Prevacus—a pharmaceutical company promising to produce concussion drugs. Wolfe’s report was based on allegations in a court filing by the former nonprofit Mississippi Community Education Center nonprofit director Nancy New, who has pleaded guilty to state and federal crimes in the welfare case. The story said VanLandingham had gotten suckered into a gold-bar scam in Ghana, Africa, and that he was trying to obtain the money for a “geological analysis” an investor said he needed in order to secure a $1-million investment for Prevacus out of Ghana. VanLandingham, who founded Prevacus, had already brought Favre on as a business partner.

“VanLandingham tried to get Favre to secure $25,000 through an investment in Prevacus from one of his fellow professional athletes, but they wouldn’t bite,” Wolfe’s report stated. “Then Favre suggested they ask the then-Mississippi governor for help and offer him stock in the company. Bryant bit.”

Read original article by clicking here.

Ex-Gov. Phil Bryant Now Targeting Reporter in Defamation Lawsuit Over Welfare Scandal Reporting

A Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter could become the latest defendant in former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant’s ongoing lawsuit against online news publication Mississippi Today.

The Republican politician, who led the state from 2012 to 2020, sued the publication last year over since-retracted remarks its CEO, Mary Margaret White, made onstage at a journalism forum in which she claimed he “embezzled” welfare funds. The lawsuit also cited promotional materials that White and Mississippi Today Editor-in-Chief Adam Ganucheau wrote to promote the publication’s reporting on Mississippi’s $77-million welfare scandal that focused heavily on Bryant.

Now, the former governor’s legal team is seeking to add reporter Anna Wolfe, whose “The Backchannel” series earned the publication a coveted local-reporting Pulitzer Prize last May, as a defendant. The allegations targeted two stories she reported late last December—months after the governor filed his original defamation lawsuit against the newsprofit news outlet and its umbrella organization Deep South Today and its board members.

Read Former Gov. Phil Bryant’s Jan. 3, 2024, filing to add reporter Anna Wolfe as a defendant in his defamation lawsuit.

Wolfe reported on Dec. 19, 2023, that retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre and his business partner, Jake VanLandingham, once sought Bryant’s help getting a $25,000 investment to help Prevacus—a pharmaceutical company promising to produce concussion drugs. Wolfe’s report was based on allegations in a court filing by the former nonprofit Mississippi Community Education Center nonprofit director Nancy New, who has pleaded guilty to state and federal crimes in the welfare case. The story said VanLandingham had gotten suckered into a gold-bar scam in Ghana, Africa, and that he was trying to obtain the money for a “geological analysis” an investor said he needed in order to secure a $1-million investment for Prevacus out of Ghana. VanLandingham, who founded Prevacus, had already brought Favre on as a business partner.

“VanLandingham tried to get Favre to secure $25,000 through an investment in Prevacus from one of his fellow professional athletes, but they wouldn’t bite,” Wolfe’s report stated. “Then Favre suggested they ask the then-Mississippi governor for help and offer him stock in the company. Bryant bit.”

Read original article by clicking here.

High school welders compete for scholarship prizes

0

Students from across the state competed in the 2024 High School Welding Competition held at Delta Technical College in Ridgeland. Every competition participant will receive a $500 Delta Tech scholarship plus an opportunity to enroll in one of the college’s welding programs.

“All of you are being offered an opportunity to have a career, not a job,” the students were told during orientation. “You have a job doing fast food. This can be a career for where you make over $100,000 a year.”

The winner of the competition will receive a $5,000 scholarship to Delta Technical College. One thousand dollars will be donated to his or her high school welding department. Second and third prize winners will receive DTC scholarships towards welding training at the college.

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Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Read original article by clicking here.

High school welders compete for scholarship prizes

0

Students from across the state competed in the 2024 High School Welding Competition held at Delta Technical College in Ridgeland. Every competition participant will receive a $500 Delta Tech scholarship plus an opportunity to enroll in one of the college’s welding programs.

“All of you are being offered an opportunity to have a career, not a job,” the students were told during orientation. “You have a job doing fast food. This can be a career for where you make over $100,000 a year.”

The winner of the competition will receive a $5,000 scholarship to Delta Technical College. One thousand dollars will be donated to his or her high school welding department. Second and third prize winners will receive DTC scholarships towards welding training at the college.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Trump Endorses Wicker for Re-Election

0

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune.

  • Former President Donald Trump says, “Senator Roger Wicker has my Complete and Total Endorsement for Re-Election. Vote Trump and Wicker on March 12th!”

Former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner to win the 2024 Republican nomination for President, has once again endorsed Mississippi’s senior U.S. Senator in his bid for re-election.

Trump shared his endorsement of Senator Roger Wicker on his social media platform Truth Social on Thursday.

“Senator Roger Wicker is a fantastic Senator for the Great State of Mississippi,” Trump wrote. “As the Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Roger is working hard to Strengthen our Military, Defend our Country, and Support our Veterans.”

Trump went on to say, “Roger is a Champion of Conservative Values, who fights to Uphold the Constitution, and Protect our Second Amendment. I was honored to receive Roger’s Endorsement last year, and Senator Roger Wicker has my Complete and Total Endorsement for Re-Election. Vote Trump and Wicker on March 12th!”

Wicker, who has served in the U.S. Senate since 2007, was among the state’s top Republican leaders that endorsed Trump’s third bid for the White House back in mid-December 2023, prior to the start of the primary season.

READ MORE: Mississippi Republican leaders rally behind Trump ahead of March Primary

Wicker is set to face State Rep. Dan Eubanks and newcomer Ghannon Burton in the March 12th Republican Primary where Trump’s name will be at the top of ticket as well.

The incumbent Senator has both a statewide name ID and fundraising advantage over the other candidates in the race. Federal Election Commission campaign finance reports show Wicker with over $5 million cash on hand while Eubanks and Burton have reported $23,000 and $31,000, respectively.

Eubanks recently ran unopposed in his 2023 re-election bid for the State House District 25 seat he’s held since 2016. He has been an active member of the Freedom Caucus during his time in the Legislature.

Burton is a retired Colonel, a decorated combat veteran, and a TOPGUN fighter pilot with a distinguished career in the United States Marine Corps. 

Trump backed Wicker in his 2018 re-election campaign where the Senator easily defeated Richard Boyanton in the Republican Primary, winning over 82% of the vote. Wicker went on to defeat Democrat David Baria, Libertarian Danny Bedwell and Reform candidate Shawn O’Hara in the four-man General Election, where Wicker won over 58% of the vote.

The winner of the Republican Primary will meet Democrat Ty Pinkins in the November General Election. Pinkins’ latest campaign finance report shows him with less than $3,000 cash on hand.

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Justice Department warns Lexington to end ‘two-tiered system of justice’

0

Justice Department officials sent a letter Thursday to the Lexington Police Department, raising questions about its use of force, fines, arrests and “discriminatory policing.”

“Lexington must stop jailing people for outstanding fines without assessing their ability to pay,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney Todd Gee for the Southern District of Mississippi wrote in a joint letter.

City Attorney Katherine Riley responded Thursday, “We welcome the Justice Department’s presence, and we think it’s going to be a positive to the city of Lexington, to the police department and to the people. We are working to make better changes.”

Last April, Justice Department officials put out a letter explaining that courts needed to determine a person’s ability to pay before putting them behind bars.

In November, Clarke announced that the Justice Department had opened a civil rights investigation to determine whether the Lexington Police Department engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that violated the Constitution and federal law.

“Specifically, we will assess whether the police department uses excessive force; violates people’s civil and constitutional rights during stops, searches and arrests; engages in discriminatory policing; or violates people’s rights to engage in speech or conduct protected by the Constitution,” she said in a press conference.

In Thursday’s letter, she wrote that the Lexington Police Department “may not force people to remain in jail because they cannot afford to pay a fine or processing fee. LPD may not require payment as a condition of release unless it has conducted an appropriate assessment of the person’s ability to pay. If the person cannot afford to pay the fine, LPD may not jail them unless there are no alternatives that would satisfy its interests in punishment and deterrence.”

In a statement, Clarke said, “It’s time to bring an end to a two-tiered system of justice in our country in which a person’s income determines whether they walk free or whether they go to jail. Unjust enforcement of fines and fees is unlawful, and it traps people and their families in a vicious cycle of poverty and punishment. There is great urgency underlying the issues we have uncovered in Mississippi and we stand ready to work with officials to end these harmful practices and ensure the civil and constitutional rights of Lexington residents are protected.”

Gee noted that a third of those residing in Lexington “live below the poverty line. The burden of unjust fines and fees undermines the goals of rehabilitation and erodes the community’s trust in the justice system. Each step we take towards fair and just policing rebuilds that trust. Lexington and LPD can take those steps now, while our investigation is ongoing.”

In the joint letter, Justice Department officials warned police against seeking unlawful arrest warrants for people who owe fines.

These bench warrants “are not predicated on any ability-to-pay analysis,” the letter says. “They do not demand that the person come before the court. Instead, they order LPD to arrest the person and jail them for a certain number of days unless they pay the outstanding fine that they owe.”

Justice Department officials asked Lexington officials “to assess the serious concerns” identified in the letter and share how they plan to remedy them.

“We will continue to examine whether there is a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers that deprives people of their rights related to the collection and enforcement of fines and fees in violation of federal law,” the letter said.

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Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Read original article by clicking here.

Justice Department warns Lexington to end ‘discriminatory policing’

0

Justice Department officials sent a letter Thursday to the Lexington Police Department, raising questions about its use of force, fines, arrests and “discriminatory policing.”

“Lexington must stop jailing people for outstanding fines without assessing their ability to pay,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney Todd Gee for the Southern District of Mississippi wrote in a joint letter.

City Attorney Katherine Riley responded Thursday, “We welcome the Justice Department’s presence, and we think it’s going to be a positive to the city of Lexington, to the police department and to the people. We are working to make better changes.”

Last April, Justice Department officials put out a letter explaining that courts needed to determine a person’s ability to pay before putting them behind bars.

In November, Clarke announced that the Justice Department had opened a civil rights investigation to determine whether the Lexington Police Department engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that violated the Constitution and federal law.

“Specifically, we will assess whether the police department uses excessive force; violates people’s civil and constitutional rights during stops, searches and arrests; engages in discriminatory policing; or violates people’s rights to engage in speech or conduct protected by the Constitution,” she said in a press conference.

In Thursday’s letter, she wrote that the Lexington Police Department “may not force people to remain in jail because they cannot afford to pay a fine or processing fee. LPD may not require payment as a condition of release unless it has conducted an appropriate assessment of the person’s ability to pay. If the person cannot afford to pay the fine, LPD may not jail them unless there are no alternatives that would satisfy its interests in punishment and deterrence.”

In a statement, Clarke said, “It’s time to bring an end to a two-tiered system of justice in our country in which a person’s income determines whether they walk free or whether they go to jail. Unjust enforcement of fines and fees is unlawful, and it traps people and their families in a vicious cycle of poverty and punishment. There is great urgency underlying the issues we have uncovered in Mississippi and we stand ready to work with officials to end these harmful practices and ensure the civil and constitutional rights of Lexington residents are protected.”

Gee noted that a third of those residing in Lexington “live below the poverty line. The burden of unjust fines and fees undermines the goals of rehabilitation and erodes the community’s trust in the justice system. Each step we take towards fair and just policing rebuilds that trust. Lexington and LPD can take those steps now, while our investigation is ongoing.”

In the joint letter, Justice Department officials warned police against seeking unlawful arrest warrants for people who owe fines.

These bench warrants “are not predicated on any ability-to-pay analysis,” the letter says. “They do not demand that the person come before the court. Instead, they order LPD to arrest the person and jail them for a certain number of days unless they pay the outstanding fine that they owe.”

Justice Department officials asked Lexington officials “to assess the serious concerns” identified in the letter and share how they plan to remedy them.

“We will continue to examine whether there is a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers that deprives people of their rights related to the collection and enforcement of fines and fees in violation of federal law,” the letter said.

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