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The Lyceum was the first building constructed on the campus of the University of Mississippi.

University Communications

New Database Reveals Disturbing Truth Regarding Lengthy Pre-Trial Detention in Mississippi

The MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law today made available to the public a comprehensive database identifying all persons detained in Mississippi’s county jails.  The database, available at, provides the names of the more than 7,000 inmates in Mississippi’s local jails and includes the counties in which they are being held, the date of their arrest, the charges against them, and the total amount of time they have been in jail.  The vast majority of those identified in the database have not yet been convicted and are awaiting indictment, trial, or mental health services.    

SPLC, MacArthur Justice Center Sue City of Corinth and Judge for Running Debtors’ Prison

The City of Corinth, Mississippi and Municipal Court Judge John C. Ross are operating a modern-day debtors’ prison, unlawfully jailing poor people for their inability to pay bail and fines, according to a federal class-action lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi Aberdeen Division, describes how Ross and the city of Corinth routinely violate the constitutional rights of people facing misdemeanor or municipal charges by holding them in jail until they pay bail money, without taking into account their ability to pay, as required by law.

“Despite being told repeatedly by the Mississippi Supreme Court and the Mississippi Judicial College to stop locking up Mississippians who are too poor to pay their fines in large lump sums and are not able to buy their way out of jail by paying a pre-determined amount of money bail, a disturbing number of judges in Mississippi defiantly refuse to comply with the law,” said Cliff Johnson, director of the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law.  “The MacArthur Justice Center and other civil rights organizations like the SPLC will keep filing lawsuits and judicial performance complaints until these judges, and the cities and counties that ratify and facilitate their practices, decide to abide by the law and the express instructions of Mississippi’s highest court.”  

Settlement Will Stop Four Mississippi Counties from Jailing People Indefinitely Without a Lawyer or Because They Can't Afford Bail

The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Mississippi today announced a settlement agreement in their federal class-action suit Burks v. Scott County, Mississippi, which challenged the county’s practice of detaining people who can’t afford an attorney for as long as a year without appointing counsel and without formally charging them with a crime. The settlement agreement and the accompanying order issued by United States District Judge Henry T. Wingate require Scott County and three other counties to end this practice by appointing public defenders at arrest. Providing legal representation so much earlier in the process will ensure that arrestees have attorneys at their first bail hearings to argue for lower bail amounts and release until trial. The settlement agreement and court order also prohibit the counties from detaining felony arrestees solely because they can’t afford money bail, a blow to unconstitutional wealth-based incarceration.  The settlement further affirms defendants’ fundamental right to release prior to trial on the least restrictive conditions needed to secure defendants’ presence at trial.

The case was filed on behalf of Josh Bassett and Octavious Burks, who were detained in Scott County, Mississippi for 8 and 10 months, respectively, without ever being charged by indictment or appointed a lawyer.  The policy in Scott County and the three other counties involved in the settlement was that no lawyer would be appointed until after arrestees were indicted, despite the fact that obtaining indictments in these rural counties often takes up to a year.  Unlike in the federal system and in most states, Mississippi places no limit on how long a person can be held in jail before the prosecution obtains an indictment.   The plaintiffs languished in jail because a local judge set cash bail at amounts neither could afford, and they had no attorney to argue for their release.   

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Mississippi Supreme Court Upholds the Right of Condemned Men and Women to Challenge Torturous Methods of Execution in State Court

The Mississippi Supreme Court has cleared the way for a Death Row prisoner to seek a state court order prohibiting a torturous method of execution.

In Crawford v. Fisher, the Mississippi Supreme Court rejected the Mississippi attorney general’s attempt to block Charles Ray Crawford from filing a civil rights lawsuit in the state court system. Crawford’s lawsuit challenges the use of a compounded anesthetic that has not been tested or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The use of an ineffective anesthetic as the first drug in a three-drug execution series would result in Crawford being conscious throughout the execution and experiencing an extremely painful death by suffocation and cardiac arrest.

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Settlement Ends “Debtors’ Prison” System in Jackson, Mississippi

The landmark settlement of a federal class action against the City of Jackson, Mississippi, has brought an end to that city’s self-described “pay or stay” system alleged to have sent hundreds of people to jail each year because they could not pay fines and fees in misdemeanor cases.

The City has agreed to give indigent defendants the choice of paying off their fines at the rate of $25 per month or performing community service and receiving credit toward their unpaid fines at the rate of $9 per hour.

In addition, Jackson no longer will require people arrested for misdemeanors to post a money bond in order to avoid pre-trial detention. Rather than releasing only those people who can afford to pay a bond and detaining those people who – although presumptively innocent – are too poor to pay their way out of jail, the city will release all people arrested for misdemeanors upon their written promise to appear in court on a specified date for a trial or other hearing. As an alternative to money bond, the city’s judges will have the option to place non-monetary pre-trial conditions on people arrested for misdemeanor offenses. For example, a judge might order a person accused of shoplifting to stay away from the location of the alleged misdemeanor until after the resolution of that person’s case.

 The case was filed on behalf of seven Jackson residents who were ordered to jail by Jackson municipal judges for periods ranging from 26-90 days due to their inability to pay court debts imposed in misdemeanor cases.

To read more about the lawsuit brought by the MacArthur Justice Center and the settlement agreement go HERE»

Settlement Ends Mississippi City’s Jailing of Impoverished People Awaiting Court Appearances for Misdemeanor Charges

Moss Point, a small city in Jackson County, Mississippi, has agreed to stop the practice of jailing impoverished people for up to a week while they wait to appear in court on misdemeanor cases.

The federal civil rights lawsuit challenged Moss Point’s use of money bail without any individualized assessment of a defendant’s ability to pay or the reasons for detaining or releasing the defendant. Under the challenged system, two defendants charged with the same alleged offense were treated differently based only on their wealth: those who could afford to pay a predetermined amount of money were released from jail with the requirement to appear in court at some later date, while those who were too poor to pay remained imprisoned at the City’s expense.

The lawsuit alleged that this practice resulted in the incarceration of hundreds of indigent defendants for up to a week while they waited to see a judge in misdemeanor cases such as disorderly conduct and public intoxication.

Several cities in Mississippi use similar money bail systems, and could face similar class action lawsuits.

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2016 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award

Four attorneys with the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center have been named recipients of the 2016 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award presented by Public Justice, the national non-profit firm pursuing high impact lawsuits to combat social and economic injustice.

Read about the award »

About the MacArthur Justice Center at Oxford, Mississippi

The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center has expanded opportunities to bring about meaningful and positive change in Mississippi through litigation of cases addressing systemic weaknesses in the state’s criminal justice and legal systems.  Learn more »

The MacArthur Justice Center at Ole Miss Law will work collaboratively with the MacArthur Justice Center offices in New Orleans and at the Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago.          

To visit the home website of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, GO HERE.