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Blacks Make up Majority of Inmates in Mississippi’s Debtors Prison

NNPA NEWSWIRE — An investigation led by The Marshall Project and the nonprofit Mississippi Today discovered that hundreds of Mississippi residents – the majority being black – were sentenced to the state’s little-known restitution center. “Basically, we discovered, Mississippi was running a modern-day debtors prison,” reporters Anna Wolfe and Michelle Liu,” wrote of their investigation.

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“It is a tragedy and absurdity that we still essentially have debtors prisons here in the United States of America,” Matt C. Pinsker, an adjunct professor of the Homeland Security & Criminal Justice Department at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University, told NNPA Newswire.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

Mississippi – a state described as having been suffocated by its history of racial prejudice – appears to be the only state where people are jailed while they work to pay off court-ordered debts.

An investigation led by The Marshall Project and the nonprofit Mississippi Today discovered that hundreds of Mississippi residents – the majority being black – were sentenced to the state’s little-known restitution center.

“Basically, we discovered, Mississippi was running a modern-day debtors prison,” reporters Anna Wolfe and Michelle Liu,” wrote of their investigation.

With Mississippi’s long and documented history of racism, the 14-month investigation found that African Americans are disproportionately punished – it’s infamous state penitentiary known as Parchman Farm was modeled after a slave plantation.

Black people are overrepresented at restitution centers, accounting for 49 percent of inmates, compared with 38 percent of the state’s population, the investigation found.

More than 60 percent of people in prison in Mississippi are black.

“The American legal system captures the poor and black and twists them in conundrums that punish them beyond any criminal act,” Attorney Kisha A. Brown, founder of Justis Connection, told NNPA Newswire.

“As a black person, we have less access to legal resources than our white counterparts, and this has dire consequences on our physical and financial security,” Brown stated.

The Mississippi investigation began on what Wolfe and Liu called an unlike tip: a woman in state prison was also working at McDonald’s – and not voluntarily.

The reporters then found Dixie D’Angelo, a woman with court-ordered debts of $5,000 because she damaged a friend’s car. “She had been sentenced to something called a restitution center, where she worked four different restaurant jobs to try to earn enough to pay off her debts and get out of jail,” they stated.

Ultimately, Wolfe and Liu found that hundreds of people were in similar situations.

They said they met with inmates and their employers across Mississippi, beginning at fast-food restaurants around Jackson, traveling to the Mississippi Delta and the Gulf Coast.

Half the people living in the centers had debts of less than $3,515. Though in arrears on fines and court fees, many didn’t need to pay restitution at all – at least 20 percent of the more than 200 people discovered in the investigation was convicted of drug possession.

However, inmates spent an average of nearly four months – and up to five years – at the centers, working at low-wage, and sometimes dangerous jobs, like slaughtering chickens or gutting catfish at processing plants.

Private citizens also hire them to work as handymen and landscapers at their homes.

Inmates found that their costs continued to balloon since they had to pay for room and board at the centers, transportation to their jobs, and medical care.

“They didn’t get paid much,” the investigators wrote in their report. “Between 2016 and 2018, workers at the centers made an average of $6.76 an hour in take-home pay.”

When inmates can’t get jobs, sometimes for medical reasons, they sit in the centers, accruing $330 a month in room and board costs, according to the investigators.

Further, just a quarter of all money earned by the inmates went to pay restitution, with the remainder going to the corrections department and the courts. In some cases, the courts added unrelated debts, such as child support. One man’s charge for meth possession turned into debt totaling $72,500, the investigation found.

Mississippi officials declined to comment.

“Debtors prisons are an effective way of collecting money – as is kidnapping,” Cliff Johnson, director of the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi, told investigators.

“But there are constitutional, public policy and moral barriers to such regime,” he stated.

The American people “would be horrified if they knew of just how many laws still exist which send poor people to prison over their inability to pay fines, court costs, and related expenses,” Matt C. Pinsker, an adjunct professor of the Homeland Security & Criminal Justice Department at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University, told NNPA Newswire.

“It is a tragedy and absurdity that we still essentially have debtors prisons here in the United States of America,” Pinsker stated.

To view the full report, including the extensive data acquired by The Marshall Project and Mississippi Today, click here.

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Fighting an Unjust System, The Bail Project Helps People Get Out of Jail and Reunites Families

In addition to posting bail at no cost to the person or their family, The Bail Project works to connect its clients to social services and community resources based on an individual’s identified needs, including substance use treatment, mental health support, stable housing and employment.

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Adrienne Johnson, the regional director for The Bail Project, told NNPA’s Let It Be Known that the organization seeks to accomplish its mission one person at a time.
Adrienne Johnson, the regional director for The Bail Project, told NNPA’s Let It Be Known that the organization seeks to accomplish its mission one person at a time.

Hundreds of thousands of individuals locked up in jails almost daily — many find it challenging to pay bail

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

As public support for criminal justice reform continues to build — and as the pandemic raises the stakes higher — advocates remain adamant that it’s more important than ever that the facts are straight, and everyone understands the bigger picture.

“The U.S. doesn’t have one ‘criminal justice system;’ instead, we have thousands of federal, state, local, and tribal systems,” Wendy Sawyer and Peter Wagner found in a study released by the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative.

Together, these systems hold almost 2 million people in 1,566 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2,850 local jails, 1,510 juvenile correctional facilities, 186 immigration detention facilities, and 82 Indian country jails, as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories,” the study authors said in a press release.

With hundreds of thousands of individuals locked up in jails almost daily, many find it challenging to pay bail.

Recognizing America’s ongoing mass incarceration problem and the difficulties families have in bailing out their loved ones, a new organization began in 2018 to offer some relief.

The Bail Project, a nationwide charitable fund for pretrial defendants, started with a vision of combating mass incarceration by disrupting the money bail system.

Adrienne Johnson, the regional director for The Bail Project, told NNPA’s Let It Be Known that the organization seeks to accomplish its mission one person at a time.

“We have a mission of doing exactly what we hope our criminal system would do: protect the presumption of innocence, reunite families, and challenge a system that we know can criminalize poverty,” Johnson stated.

“Our mission is to end cash bail and create a more just, equitable, and humane pretrial system,” she insisted.

Johnson said The Bronx Freedom Fund, at the time a new revolving bail fund that launched in New York, planted the seed for The Bail Project more than a decade ago.

“Because bail is returned at the end of a case, we can build a sustainable revolving fund where philanthropic dollars can be used several times per year, maximizing the impact of every contribution,” Johnson stated.

In addition to posting bail at no cost to the person or their family, The Bail Project works to connect its clients to social services and community resources based on an individual’s identified needs, including substance use treatment, mental health support, stable housing and employment.

Johnson noted that officials created cash bail to incentivize people to return to court.

Instead, she said, judges routinely set cash bail well beyond most people’s ability to afford it, resulting in thousands of legally innocent people incarcerated while they await court dates.

According to The Bail Project, Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by cash bail, and of all Black Americans in jail in the U.S., nearly half are from southern prisons.

“There is no way to do the work of advancing pretrial reform without addressing the harmful effects of cash bail in the South,” said Robin Steinberg, Founder, and CEO of The Bail Project.

“Cash bail fuels racial and economic disparities in our legal system, and we look forward to supporting the community in Greenville as we work to eliminate cash bail and put ourselves out of business.”

Since its launch, The Bail Project has stationed teams in more than 25 cities, posting bail for more than 18,000 people nationwide.

Johnson said the organization uses its national revolving bail fund, powered by individual donations, to pay bail.

The Bail Project has spent over $47 million on bail.

“When we post bail for a person, we post the full cash amount at court,” Johnson stated.

“Upon resolution of the case, the money returns to whoever posted. So, if I posted $5,000 to bail someone out, we then help the person get back to court and resolve the case,” she continued.

“The money then comes back to us, and we can use that money to help someone else. So, we recycle that.”

Johnson said eliminating cash bail and the need for bail funds remains the goal.

“It’s the just thing to do. It restores the presumption of innocence, and it restores families,” Johnson asserted.

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PRESS ROOM: EPA Administrator Regan to Join Leaders of Civil Rights, Environmental Justice Movement for Significant Announcement in Warren County, North Carolina

NNPA NEWSWIRE — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael S. Regan will be joined by significant figures from the civil rights and environmental justice movements, including Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and other participants from the original Warren County protests for the event.
The post PRESS ROOM: EPA Administrator Regan to Join Leaders of Civil Rights, Environmental Justice Movement for Significant Announcement in Warren County, North Carolina first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Administrator to honor legacy of environmental justice and civil rights at event in Warren County, site of protests that launched the movement 40 years ago

WASHINGTON (September 22, 2022) – On Saturday, September 24, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael S. Regan will travel to Warren County, North Carolina to deliver remarks on EPA’s environmental justice and civil rights priorities and the progress we’ve achieved since the first protest and march that launched the movement 40 years ago this week. Administrator Regan will make a significant announcement on President Biden’s commitment to elevate environmental justice and civil rights enforcement at EPA and across the federal government and ensure the work to support our most vulnerable communities continues for years to come.

Administrator Regan will be joined by significant figures from the civil rights and environmental justice movements, including participants from the original Warren County protests for the event.

Who:
EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan
Congressman G. K. Butterfield (NC-01)
Environmental Justice and Civil Rights Leaders
Warren County residents and community leaders
Additional stakeholders

What: Remarks on EPA environmental justice and civil rights priorities and honoring the legacy of the environmental justice and civil rights movement
When: Saturday, September 24, 2022,
Doors Open: 11:30 AM ET
Program: 12:45 PM ET
;
Where: Warren County Courthouse
109 S Main Street
Warrenton, NC 27589
Livestream: A livestream of this event will be available at epa.gov/live.

The post PRESS ROOM: EPA Administrator Regan to Join Leaders of Civil Rights, Environmental Justice Movement for Significant Announcement in Warren County, North Carolina first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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September 26 | Governance at the Local Level | The Conversation with Al McFarlane

Join Al McFarlane (Host), Brenda Lyle-Gray (Co-Host) and Special Guest Co-Host Diana Hawkins, Executive Director for …
The post September 26 | Governance at the Local Level | The Conversation with Al McFarlane first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Join Al McFarlane (Host), Brenda Lyle-Gray (Co-Host) and Special Guest Co-Host Diana Hawkins, Executive Director for …

The post September 26 | Governance at the Local Level | The Conversation with Al McFarlane first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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