Mississippi Jails Overrun With Thousands Lacking Representation

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A report from the MacArthur Justice Center reveals that 2,716 detainees out of 5,800 people in Mississippi county jails had been there for more than 90 days and a majority of them lack legal representation, reports the Mississippi Free Press. Mississippi is among five states without a statewide public-defender system “and places the burden of providing public defenders entirely on local governments,” the report said. UM’s MacArthur Justice Center Director Cliff Johnson said 85 percent of criminal defendants in Mississippi cannot afford a private attorney and must rely on public defenders, with thousands languishing in county jails awaiting trial because they are too poor to make bail.

Mississippi’s county-based public-defender system leaves defendants without legal counsel between preliminary hearing and arraignment, which is devastating to the accused, who are still innocent until proven guilty. After spending so much time in jail and the defendants getting indicted, many take a plea bargain to get out for the term served. A 2018 report called out Mississippi for the practice of leaving defendants without attorneys between initial arraignment and indictment as a violation of the constitutional right to counsel.

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