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State Public Defender requests funds to revamp system as thousands sit in jail awaiting trial
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André de Gruy has been the State Public Defender since 2016. He met before Mississippi lawmakers on Jan. 19 to request $2 million to launch three pilot projects to streamline the Office of the State Public Defender's reach across the state.
Brittany Brown, MPB News

The Office of State Public Defender is looking to revamp the system as thousands of people in Mississippi are in jail awaiting trial. The State Public Defender is requesting $2 million from Mississippi lawmakers to streamline legal services to people who have been arrested, jailed, but not yet convicted of a crime and sentenced to prison.

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State Public Defender requests funds to revamp system as thousands sit in jail awaiting trial

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"I say we must do more. You look at the research. We must do more," State Public Defender André de Gruy said.

He’s requesting funds from lawmakers to create a new model that will launch three offices across the state to improve legal services provided to people accused of crimes. One office will be in North Mississippi, one in South Mississippi and one in Jackson. De Gruy said this will help combat a major issue in the state: thousands of people are in jail awaiting trial.

"People are sitting in our jails. Because they can't afford bail. And they don't have lawyers because they can't afford a lawyer, so they're sitting in jail for months, sometimes years," de Gruy said.

In fact, the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law just published a report that shows over 5,800 people are in jail in the state. Most have been detained for at least three months to a year, and most are awaiting indictment and trial. The report said local governments bear the burden of providing public defenders because Mississippi does not have a statewide public defender system. What de Gruy is hoping to do could be a step in changing that.

"What we’re proposing is to help facilitate bringing together smaller counties. One office can’t handle every case that comes along. And so what we’re proposing is a model, a multi-district model that would bring them up closer to what the DA looks like," de Gruy said.

The State Public Defender also wants to have more social workers connected to their office to provide mental health services, and the office wants to increase staff salaries, making pay more equitable and closer to prosecutors’ pay.