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Miss. Pre-Trial Jail Terms Among the Longest In the Nation

Miss. Pre-Trial Jail Terms Among the Longest In the Nation
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University of Mississippi Law students
MacArthur Justice Center

People in Mississippi are sitting behind bars, waiting for trial, longer than citizens in many other states, according to a newly compiled database. MPB's Ashley Norwood reports.

Mississippi inmates awaiting trial can spend months or even years in local jails, according to a new survey by the MacArthur Justice Center, part of the University of Mississippi Law School. Students and staff identified more than 7,000 inmates. Some of them were already convicted but the majority await trial. More than a third of all of those jailed before trial were there for 90 or more consecutive days. More than 600 had been in jail longer than a year.

Cliff Johnson, director of the center, says the reasons vary from county to county.

"In some situations, you have prosecutors who are waiting for results from the crime lab, you have people sitting in jail waiting for mental health evaluations, law enforcement arrest someone and then they don't finish the investigation in a timely manner. In some instances, the public defenders aren't pushing the cases and they continue to ask for a continuance after continuance rather than pushing people's cases to trial," said Johnson.

Johnson is asking Mississippi legislators to create a similar system requiring all local jails to submit data on inmates regularly.

Republican Representative Ashley Henley of Desoto county is on the House corrections committee.

"We're looking at it from all sorts of angles. It's going to have to be, I believe, a uniform procedural policy position from the court," said Henley.

Johnson says the Center wants the Mississippi Supreme Court to adopt a new rule limiting the time a person can be held in jail pre-trial.

The database is available online at Ashley Norwood, MPB News.