In Conversation with Mississippi Center for Justice

Although I didn’t have bandwidth to connect with all my organizations this year, I’m grateful for the check-ins I did have.

Thanks to Beth Orlansky, Advocacy Director at the Mississippi Center for Justice for updating me on their work this year.

In 2018, the Mississippi Center for Justice filed suit against the Department of Corrections, challenging a practice in two prisons that precluded prisoners from receiving free books unless they were religious. Our client, Big House Books, sends requested reading materials to inmates free of charge. Before the Department of Corrections even answered the suit, they agreed that our case had merit and changed the policy. The case brought to light the practices of other correctional facilities who limit reading material for inmates, and we filed a second suit against the Forrest County jail for only allowing Bibles and religious books. In 2019, we plan to explore practices throughout the state to see if other challenges are warranted.

Through advocacy work, MCJ was able to get the Department of Human Services to rescind a new requirement for renewal of childcare certificates that was unduly burdensome without having to file suit. Going forward, parents are no longer required to have a driver’s license with a current address in order to prove residency. Because many low income families move frequently, this requirement was creating a barrier to renewal for many mothers.

We have two lawsuits set for trial early in 2019. One involves a Voting Rights Act challenge to the legislative district boundaries for a Senate seat in the Delta which would result in a higher African-American majority with new boundaries, and the other challenges the provision in the 1890 Constitution permanently disenfranchising people convicted of specific felonies. Both of these cases could have major impact on the statewide 2019 elections.

Also in 2019, we expect to have a justice court navigator project up and running to inform people being sued for debt collection what to expect in justice court and what their rights are.

The nonprofit organization I’d like to give a shout-out to is the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, which brings communities together to dialogue on racial justice issues and does amazing work with young people in Mississippi.

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