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Justice Dept. announces over $6 million in grants to assist victims of domestic and sexual violence in Mississippi



U.S. Attorneys Mike Hurst of the Southern District of Mississippi and William C. “Chad” Lamar of the Northern District of Mississippi announced Thursday that Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women will direct over $6 million in grant funding to Mississippi to bolster efforts throughout the state to curb domestic violence.

With domestic violence continuing to proliferate throughout Mississippi, affecting not only victims but also their families and friends, U.S. Attorney Hurst is also announcing a new initiative entitled “Operation Pheonecia,” in honor of a local victim of domestic violence, Pheonecia Ratliff of Canton, Mississippi, to combat this growing threat.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will experience physical violence by their intimate partner at some point during their lifetimes. About 1 in 3 women and nearly 1 in 6 men experience some form of sexual violence during their lifetimes. Intimate partner violence, sexual violence and stalking are high, with intimate partner violence occurring in over 10 million people each year.

“These grants will help victims escape abuse, seek justice and rebuild their lives,” said OVW Principal Deputy Director Laura Rogers. OVW’s current and forthcoming investments in Mississippi foster coordinated responses to violence against women, making resources available to local and tribal communities for investigation and prosecution, transitional housing and culturally specific victim services, and training for professionals who respond to these crimes.

“Today, we are recommitting to do even more to combat the scourge that is domestic violence. These grants and Operation Pheonecia will go a long way in making our homes, our families and our communities safer,” said U.S. Attorney Hurst. “By bringing together law enforcement, victim advocates, our courts, attorneys and the general public, we can effectively fight domestic violence and get victims the help they so desperately need.”

“There are far too many Mississippians and Americans who fall victim to domestic violence at the hands of an intimate partner, family member or parent. For many of these victims, home is a place for fear and pain rather than a refuge or safe place. Our office is committed to working alongside state and local partners to combat this problem and these grants will significantly aid in ongoing efforts to combat domestic violence across our state and nation,” remarked U.S. Attorney Lamar.

Grant awards

Among the more than $6 million in awards that will be issued to organizations and government agencies in Mississippi are:

  • The Mississippi State Department of Health will receive $2,271,297 in formula funds to support law enforcement, prosecutors, victim services providers, and courts in working collaboratively to respond to domestic and sexual violence.
  • The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians is receiving four awards, totaling $2,149,722, to: fund a cross-deputized tribal prosecutor to pursue cases involving domestic violence, sexual assault, and other serious crimes in tribal court, federal court or both; bolster coordinated community responses to violence against women; strengthen the tribal criminal justice system in preparation for exercising special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction under the Violence Against Women Act; and provide services specifically for sexual assault victims.
  • The Mississippi Coalition Against Sexual Assault is receiving $152,345, and the Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence is receiving $91,274, to coordinate victim services and training, and collaborate with federal, state, and local entities across the state.
  • The Mississippi Coalition Against Sexual Assault is also being awarded an additional $500,000 to provide training and technical assistance to colleges and universities throughout the nation to address violence against women on campus.
  • Care Lodge Domestic Violence Shelter, Inc., in Meridian, is receiving a grant of $550,000 to provide transitional housing for domestic violence victims.
  • Our House, Inc., in Greenville, is receiving $288,300 to provide services tailored to the needs of Black survivors of sexual assault in rural areas.

Mississippi’s grant recipients will also have access to training and technical assistance to help them implement effective strategies for keeping victims safe and holding offenders accountable. One example is OVW’s Stalking Prevention, Awareness and Resource Center, a project of the Washington, D.C.-based Aequitas: The Prosecutor’s Resource on Violence Against Women, which is receiving $1.5 million this year to continue providing training and other resources to law enforcement, prosecutors and victim services providers to combat stalking. Stalking is a crime that often occurs alongside domestic violence and is associated with a higher risk of domestic violence-related homicide, so equipping justice and victim services professionals with tools for responding to stalking can help them reach victims before it is too late.

Operation Pheonecia

Named in honor of Pheonecia Ratliff of Canton, Mississippi, who lost her life May 14, 2020, due to domestic violence, “Operation Pheonecia” is a new initiative by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi to directly combat domestic violence with the intent to prevent harm and loss of life before they occur. The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%, and with intimate partner violence accounting for 15% of all violent crime and with almost 20% of domestic violence incidents involving a weapon, the U.S. Attorney’s Office knew it had to act.

Under this initiative, and by working with federal, state and local law enforcement and nonprofit entities, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is making the investigation and prosecution of federal domestic violence crimes a priority. In addition, “Operation Pheonecia” will involve a campaign to put domestic abusers on notice of their prohibition to possessing firearms, train law enforcement on how to investigate federal domestic violence crimes, provide education for local judges as to the impact of their orders on potential federal criminal prosecutions, and bring awareness to local bar associations and the public on how to report domestic violence crimes and to work with federal authorities, with the overarching goal to reduce domestic violence, save lives and assist victims.


ERDC’s modeling helps the Gulf Coast prepare for storms



The Advanced Circulation (ADCIRC) model simulation shows maximum water surface elevations along the Texas Coastline during Hurricane Laura using the National Hurricane Center Advisory 23 consensus track shifted left. Researchers at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center are using numerical modeling systems, like ADCIRC, to help U.S. Army Corps of Engineers districts better prepare for tropical storms by simulating scenarios to look at the possible storm impacts to district maintained and operated structures. (photo courtesy ERDC)

As a tropical system approaches the coastline and the intensity and impact of the storm becomes evident, officials and first responders brace for landfall by staging equipment and readying personnel for the aftermath. To assist in these efforts, researchers at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center use numerical modeling systems to help U.S. Army Corps of Engineers districts better prepare for storms.

The Advanced Circulation model is a higher-order accurate, physics-based and highly parallelized computational model. It is the USACE’s Hydrology, Hydraulics and Coastal Community of Practice preferred model for storm surge and circulation and is considered the industry standard for use.

Earlier this year, as Hurricane Laura approached the gulf coast, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center began narrowing landfall predictions along the border between Texas and Louisiana. As some of the region fell within the USACE Galveston District’s area of responsibility, they immediately began preparing for the storm.

“We were contacted by the Galveston District through the USACE Reachback Operational Center and asked specifically to run some scenarios for them that would look at the structures they’re in charge of maintaining and operating to see what kind of impacts they could expect,” said Chris Massey, a research mathematician at the ERDC’s Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory. “Specifically, they wanted us to run the consensus track from the NHC.”

Beginning with the NHC’s Advisory 23, CHL began storm surge simulations of Hurricane Laura making use of the ADCIRC mesh for the coast of Texas. That mesh has over 4.5 million nodes and over 8.9 million unstructured triangular elements with element sizes down to 20 meters in some key inland locations.

The ADCIRC model simulations use forcing values from tides, along with wind and surface level atmospheric pressure fields. The wind and pressure time series fields were derived from the NHC forecast advisories and computed by ADCIRC using its internal asymmetric cyclone vortex model.

“We worked with some of our partners at Louisiana State University, the University of Georgia and the Coastal Prediction Restoration Authority in Louisiana to get those winds and pressures,” Massey said. “They have an automated method for generating the necessary wind and pressure field input decks for the model. They were very gracious partners and let us have that setup to get us going to help the district.”

Once they had the consensus track, Massey and his team were able to edit it to alter the track location and the intensity of the storm for several different scenarios to see the impact on district assets.

“By that evening, we had three scenarios simulated with the results handed back over to the district for them to review,” Massey said. “We provided both some static images that showed what the maximum water levels would be, and then we also provided raw data files for them so that they could bring in their Geographic Information Systems with their GIS experts.”

“From the district’s perspective, this is very much operational support,” he added. “They are looking at gate operations, or places that might be potentially compromised during an event, so that they can start to plan and monitor and get things in place — it helps fill in their picture.”

The NHC’s mission is to save lives, mitigate property loss and improve economic efficiency by issuing the best watches, warnings, forecasts and analyses of hazardous tropical weather and by increasing understanding of these hazards. For ERDC and the USACE, the main goal of the ADCIRC model is to augment the information provided by the hurricane center with additional data, providing USACE districts and local partners the ability to make more informed decisions regarding operational structures and support.

“The model allows us to answer questions like when will the highest water levels be coming in, when will that water level get to a threshold height and how long will it be at that height,” Massey said.

“The Galveston District used the ERDC-produced ADCIRC scenarios to make informed operational recommendations to our partners on which areas are safe to position personnel and equipment and where to reposition our assets,” said Coraggio Maglio, Hydraulics and Hydrology branch chief at the Galveston District. “A 30-mile western shift in the hurricane’s landfall location would have had very different consequences for our region. When looking at overtopping scenarios for leveed areas, a single additional foot in total stormwater level can be a significant consideration.”

“The ADCIRC capabilities are important for all of our districts when they are planning operations and responses, because the model allows us to potentially shore up areas that may have been weakened,” Massey said. “It helps with planning, which can prevent further disaster, or positioning of resources for use after the fact.”

“The ability to provide this data to the officials in East Texas was vital during Hurricane Laura,” said Alicia Rea, Galveston District director of Emergency Management and Security. “Our district Commander Col. Tim Vail rode out the storm in Orange, Texas, with local officials at the Orange County Emergency Operations Center. He was able to provide our data in real time, which allowed the local officials to make quick and effective decisions. The work our team did during Laura will help foster our relationships along the Texas Coast well into the future.”

“This modelling effort really just supports the mission of the USACE in terms of flood risk management for the communities,” Massey said. “ERDC is here to bring our expertise to help our districts during this kind of situation ⸺ that’s the purpose of the UROC. We are here to support the operational needs of our districts for specific scenarios that involve specific district interests.”

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Creating a culture of hope for children and families



Psychologist Chan Hellman talks about instilling hope to nurture families and children who have encountered adversity. (photo courtesy MS Administrative Office of Courts)

The Mississippi Commission on Children’s Justice this week asked leaders in child welfare to rethink how the state’s system responds to allegations of child neglect rooted in poverty.

The model is one centered on hope. The idea is to give hope to parents and children who encounter the Department of Child Protection Services and the Youth Courts.

The Commission conducted three days of meetings with a leading proponent of hope-centered programs, Chan Hellman, Ph.D., of Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Oct. 20, 21, and 22 at the Gartin Justice Building and the Department of Child Protection Services in Jackson.

“The hope is that Dr. Hellman’s presentation will change our mindset, and we see a new way,” Taylor Cheeseman, Interim Commissioner of the Department of Child Protection Services, told CPS leaders, judges and court staff Oct. 21.

“Hope is the guiding framework of how we respond” in providing services to those in need, said Hellman, a professor of social work at the University of Oklahoma and Director of The Hope Research Center. Giving hope is an essential part of nurturing families and children toward improving their lives.

“Hope is the belief that the future will be better, and you have the power to make it so,” Hellman said.

His approach includes teaching people to do three things:

  • set desirable goals
  • identify viable pathways to goals, finding solutions to the problems that stand in the way
  • maintain the willpower to pursue those goals.

Hellman said action separates hope from a wish. “We are moving parents and families from wishing to hoping because we are going to make that pathway.”

CPS Deputy Commissioner Tonya Rogillio said it’s important to instill hope in the social work staff as well as the people they serve. The agency has a 30% turnover rate.

“I’m a firm believer that you can’t give what you don’t have,” Hellman said. He believes that creating a culture of hope lowers staff burnout and improves job satisfaction.

“If Mississippi embraces this, it could have tremendous impact,” said Justice Dawn Beam, co-chair of the Commission on Children’s Justice.

One of the biggest challenges of implementing a hope-centered program is getting beyond skepticism. “It feels like it’s kind of a fluffy rainbows and unicorns thing,” Hellman said.

Earlier in his career, he would have laughed at the idea, but as a quantitative psychologist, he has measured and documented results including improved grades for children. He studies the effect of hope on outcomes for children and adults. His research is focused on hope as a psychological strength helping children and adults overcome trauma and adversity. He is the co-author of the book “Hope Rising: How the Science of Hope Can Change Your Life.”

Hellman has spent 25 years working with victims of domestic violence, child maltreatment, homelessness and poverty. He knows the struggles. He grew up in poverty and was homeless from eighth grade through high school.

As a psychologist, he experienced a eureka moment 12 years ago when he interviewed a 19-year-old homeless man who had recently been diagnosed with HIV. The man was filled with hope and had plans for attending college. “It was a realization that I had spent my entire career focused on the wrong question. ‘What’s wrong with you?’” Hellman said, recalling the incident. His approach then shifted to “What happened to you?” and “What’s right with you?”

“Hope can be taught. It starts with goals, pathways and willpower,” Hellman told members of the Mississippi Programs of HOPE committee of the Commission on Children’s Justice during a discussion Oct. 22. “At the heart of change is our ability to understand the way things are and to imagine the way things could be.”

Chancellor Rhea Sheldon of Hattiesburg, co-chair of the Commission on Children’s Justice, said, “I’m excited to see what we are going to be able to do going forward with collaboration with nonprofits and Child Protection Services.”

“It’s a vision that we all can work together for the children of our state,” Justice Beam said. “We don’t need to dream with boundaries. We need to dream big.”

The Commission on Children’s Justice recently established Programs of HOPE to continue to address child neglect prevention. Five multidisciplinary committees were established to identify and recommend actions that can fill gaps, strengthen opportunities and lift up Mississippi families to a place where they can see a path toward better lives.

Programs of HOPE committees include Housing and Transportation; Opportunities for Treatment; Parent, Child and Family Supports; Economic Security; and Pathways of HOPE.

The Mississippi Supreme Court created the Commission on Children’s Justice in 2006 and tasked it to develop a statewide, comprehensive approach to improving the child welfare system; coordinate the three branches of government; and recommend changes to improve children’s safety, strengthen and support families, and promote public trust and confidence in the child welfare system.

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JSU placed on probation after multiple athletic recruiting violations



(Photo source: Jackson State University)

Jackson State University has been put on probation due to NCAA recruiting violations.

According to multiple reports, JSU had 34 student-athletes practice and play before they received their certification from the NCAA Eligibility Center.

The athletic program is also in trouble for a former staff member paying $300 to the godmother of a football prospect.

Listed below is the punishments the university faces due to the violations:

  • Two years of probation.
  • A fine of $5,000.
  • A 2% reduction in baseball scholarship equivalencies from the annual limit of 11.7 equivalencies during the 2021-22 academic year and a 2.5% reduction in football scholarship equivalencies from the annual limit of 63 equivalencies during the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years.
  • The football program must serve a one-week ban on unofficial visits in each month of January, February, March and April 2021.
  • A reduction of four football official paid visits during the 2021-22 academic year.
  • The football program must serve a one-week ban of all recruiting communication contacts and off-campus recruiting by the entire football staff with any prospects, including transfers, in each of May and June 2021.
  • A vacation of records of contests in which student-athletes participated while ineligible. The university must provide a written report containing the contests impacted to the NCAA media coordination and statistics staff within 14 days of the public release of the decision.
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