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Study: Mississippi has highest rate of felon disenfranchisement in the nation

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(Photo by Phil Roeder from Des Moines, IA, USA - 11.2.2010 291/365, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79215983)

Mississippi now denies a higher percentage of its residents the right to vote because of felony convictions than any state in the country, according to a recent study.

In Mississippi, 235,150 people, or 10.6% of the state’s voting age population, have lost their right to vote, according to a recent study by The Sentencing Project, a national nonprofit that advocates for voting and criminal justice issues. Since 2016, Mississippi has moved from second to first highest percentage in the nation.

Mississippi also has the third highest percentage of disenfranchised Black residents of any state in the nation: 130,500 Black Mississippians, or 16% of that voting age population, cannot vote. Mississippi is third to Wyoming (36.22%) and Tennessee (21.65%).

Both Mississippi percentages are well above national averages: total felony disenfranchisement is 2.3% nationally, and the national average for disenfranchised African Americans is 6.3%.

The Mississippi Constitution, written by white lawmakers in 1890, contains a list of crimes for which a person convicted of a felony loses voting rights. The original list of crimes deemed to be disenfranchising has been updated by official opinions from the attorney general’s office through the years to coincide with modern criminal law.

Disenfranchising crimes include: arson, armed robbery, bigamy, bribery, embezzlement, extortion, felony bad check, felony shoplifting, forgery, larceny, murder, obtaining money or goods under false pretense, perjury, rape, receiving stolen property, robbery, theft, timber larceny, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, statutory rape, carjacking and larceny under lease or rental agreement.

There are other crimes, such as crimes connected with the sale of drugs, where a person convicted of a felony does not lose the right to vote and actually is eligible to vote while incarcerated.

Felony disenfranchisement language was added to the state Constitution in the 1890s as one of several attempts to prevent Black Mississippians from voting. With African Americans still being disproportionately convicted of crimes, that continues to be the effect of the disenfranchisement language.

A 2018 analysis by Mississippi Today found that 61% of the Mississippians who have lost their rights to vote are African American, despite the fact that African Americans represent 36% of the state’s total voting-age population.

Most states restore voting rights for people convicted of felonies at some point after they finish their sentence or complete their parole and probation. But in Mississippi, people convicted of many crimes — some of the crimes violent, and some not — never have their rights restored unless done so by a two-thirds vote of both chambers of the Legislature or by a gubernatorial pardon.

READ MORE: Not all ex-felons are barred from voting in Mississippi, but no one is telling them that.

Legislation to automatically restore voting rights to felons at some point after serving their sentence is introduced most years in the Legislature and in past years has passed one chamber, but died in the other. There are federal lawsuits pending claiming that permanent disenfranchisement violates the U.S. Constitution.

In the 2020 session, the Legislature restored the right to vote to six felons. In 2019, legislators restored suffrage to 16 – the most since 2004 when voting rights were restored to 34. Between 2000 and 2020, the Legislature averaged restoring voting rights to 7.3 felons per year.

In a 2016 study, The Sentencing Project estimated that Florida was first in the nation for total felony disenfranchisement at 10.4%, and Mississippi was second at 9.6%.

Florida voters approved a citizen-sponsored initiative in 2018 to restore voting rights to most after their sentences were completed. Still, 7.7% of Floridians convicted of felonies have not had their rights restored in large part because they have not paid off fines and fees mandated by the Florida Legislature.

But no such major reform has passed in Mississippi.

“Mississippi is one of those states with indefinite disenfranchisement, essentially lifetime disenfranchisement,” said University of Minnesota professor Christopher Uggen, the lead researcher on the Sentencing Project report. “Many of the other states have pared back those restrictions… In Mississippi, it is for life.

“That means if you had a felony conviction in 1972 you are still locked out of that process without some extraordinary effort,” Uggen continued. “And frankly the number of restorations in Mississippi, the people who go through the formal process, is tiny. Clearly, in my view, this is a vestige of the long civil rights process where we had very restrictive laws in the 19th century, and some of them exist today.”

The Sentencing Project held a recent conference call to release the report that detailed how the number of disenfranchised felons had dropped from more than 6.1 million in 2016 to about 5.2 million in 2020 as states like Florida and others have reformed their laws. In many states, governors have issued executive orders restoring rights to thousands of felons.

Shahur Abdullah, who served 41 years in prison in Nebraska and founded JustUs 15 Vote, had his rights restored when the state of Nebraska changed its law from a permanent ban to a ban for two years after being released from prison. He said voting was particularly important to him because his father, a Mississippi native, was not able to vote in his home state after fighting for the United States in the Korean Conflict. Abdullah’s father later moved his family from Philadelphia, Mississippi, to Nebraska.

“Given my own personal history, and this country’s history of systemic racism and white supremacy, I felt the full weight of my ancestors behind me when I voted for the first time,” Abdullah said. “We ought to remember that this country was founded on the principle of no taxation without representation. I was immediately required to pay taxes upon my release from incarceration, but my vote wasn’t accepted. This should never be the case.”


This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Education

Project SEARCH provides internships for students with disabilities in Vicksburg

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The Project SEARCH interns at Merit Health River Region are eager to learn new skills. (photo courtesy MHRR)

A national program designed to help students with disabilities obtain competitive community-based employment has expanded to Vicksburg through a strategic collaboration of the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, Merit Health River Region and the Vicksburg Warren School District.

Project SEARCH Merit Health River Region is offering up to 12 students from the Vicksburg Warren School District an eight-month internship position during the 2020-21 school year. This opportunity allows the students to work on employability and functional skills in several areas including team building, technology, communication, job search skills and money management.

“We are proud to partner with the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services and the Vicksburg Warren School District to provide skill development opportunities for the Project SEARCH interns,” said Ben Richaud, CEO of Merit Health River Region, in a statement. “The interns have been a great addition to our team, and I’m impressed by their enthusiasm and work ethic.”

“Our District’s vision is to graduate all students college, career and life prepared — and all means all,” said Chad Shealy, superintendent of the Vicksburg Warren School District. “We are excited about this opportunity and appreciate the partnership with Merit Health River Region and Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services. Providing real-life work experiences for our students with disabilities will help build the foundation these kids need to be successful in the workplace. Project SEARCH positively changes the trajectory for these children by giving them a head-start on a meaningful career that they want and deserve.”

“Our mission as a state agency is perfectly matched with that of Project SEARCH,” said Chris Howard, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services. “Our goal is for these interns to gain full-time employment with benefits after they have completed this program. Our partnership with Merit Health River Region and the Vicksburg Warren School District is making this goal possible for these students.”

Project SEARCH first came to Mississippi in 2015 and now includes 11 sites across the state.

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News

River City Rescue Mission in need of turkeys

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(photo by Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash)

The River City Rescue Mission is in need of turkeys to feed homeless and poor people in Vicksburg this Thanksgiving week.

The mission, located at 3705 Washington St., serves three meals a day to people who otherwise would not get a decent meal at all. At every meal, the mission feeds from 80 to 100 people.

“We can’t do it alone,” said mission Director Ernie Hall. “It’s going to take all of us.”

Coming into the Thanksgiving holiday, the mission also prepares food boxes for families that could not put a turkey on the table without them. For Christmas, they also collect toys for children with a parent who is incarcerated.

For more information, please call River City Rescue Mission at 601-636-6602.

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COVID-19

Warren County saw its first COVID-19 death in November as cases across the nation continue to surge

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Sunday, the Mississippi State Department of Health reported the first COVID-19 death in Warren County this month. The death was identified on a death certificate report and could have occurred any time between July 29 and Nov. 14.

Nationally, the seven-day average of new reported cases remains dangerously high at more than 171,000 daily. Hospitalizations and deaths are also increasing, with nearly 84,000 people hospitalized and 844 deaths reported Sunday. The seven-day average for new deaths is more than 1,500 daily.

In Warren County, MSDH reported 10 new COVID-19 cases Sunday and one new death, and another four cases Monday. The cumulative number of cases in Warren County to date is 1,721, and the county’s death toll is 57.

Statewide, MSDH reported 779 new COVID-19 cases Sunday and 699 cases Monday bringing the total cumulative confirmed cases in Mississippi to 143,879. The seven-day average of new cases is 1,283 per day, about 623 cases and more than double the seven-day average a month ago. The average is on par with numbers seen in July.

At the beginning of the crises, the age group with the most COVID-19 cases were those over 65. Now, most new cases are seen in younger people who are more likely to survive the virus than those 65 and older. In September, the age group reporting the most cases in Mississippi were 18 to 24 years old. That has shifted to a slightly older group. In November, the age group reporting the most cases in Mississippi are from 25 to 39 years old followed by those 50 to 64 years old.

MSDH reported Sunday that 19 more Mississippians died of COVID-19 statewide. No new deaths were reported Monday. The cumulative number of deaths in the state is 3,676. The state’s rate of deaths to confirmed cases is about 2.6%. This rate has dropped slightly as the number of cases are going up faster than the number of deaths at this time.

Deaths are a lagging indicator. While July saw the highest number of new cases since the crisis began, August saw the highest number of deaths. The highest number of deaths in any one day in Mississippi was 67 reported Aug. 25.

Of the 19 deaths MSDH reported Sunday, four occurred between Nov. 20 and Nov. 21 in the following counties:

County Deaths reported Sunday
Desoto 1
Lamar 1
Neshoba 1
Tate 1

An additional 15 COVID-19 related deaths reported Sunday occurred between July 29 and Nov. 14 and were identified from death certificate reports.

County Deaths identified from death certificate reports
Coahoma 2
Desoto 1
Franklin 1
Lee 2
Marshall 4
Neshoba 1
Oktibbeha 1
Prentiss 1
Warren 1
Yazoo 1

New cases and deaths were reported to MSDH as of 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 21, and Sunday, Nov. 22. MSDH usually reports statistics on the COVID-19 coronavirus each day based on the previous day’s testing and death reports.

The primary metric concerning state health officials are the numbers of people hospitalized, and that number rose steadily with the rise of new cases in July and August. On June 6, the number of Mississippians hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 was at 358. Hospitalizations tripled by late July.

Hospitalizations then steadily dropped through Oct. 3 when they began rising again along with increased cases. The last week in October, hospitalizations began levelling off; however, since Nov. 4 hospitals have seen a steady rise in COVID-19 patients once again.

The number of Mississippians hospitalized for the virus as of 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20, was 1,017, about 85% of the late July peak of about 1,200. The number includes 897 with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 102 people with suspected but unconfirmed cases. Of those with confirmed infections, 223 were critically ill and in intensive care units and 106 were on ventilators.

Source: MSDH

MSDH has estimated the number of people who can be presumed recovered from COVID-19 in Mississippi. That number is 121,637 through Sunday, Nov. 22. It represents about 84.5% of the cumulative 143,879 cases reported as of Monday, Nov. 23.

The number of cases in Warren County three weeks ago, Monday, Nov. 2, was 1,583, therefore the estimated number of people presumed recovered in the county is 1,526, or about 88.7% of the 1,721 cumulative cases reported as of Monday, Nov. 23. The county has an estimated 139 active cases.

These estimates are based on MSDH’s guidelines for calculating estimated recoveries when hospitalizations are not known, using the number of cases 21 days ago, less known outcomes (deaths).

The total number of Mississippians tested for COVID-19 (PCR and antigen tests identifying current infections) as of Saturday, Nov. 21, is 1,237,802 or about 41.6% of the state’s 2.976 million residents. MSDH reports statewide test results once a week. Without daily updated numbers of tests, it is impossible to accurately calculate Mississippi’s positivity rate (positive results to tests, seven-day average); however, the rate was 21.1% Sunday, according to Johns Hopkins University. The national rate is 9.8%, and 5% or lower indicates adequate testing.

The total number of outbreaks in long-term care facilities was 172 Monday, an decrease of one since Saturday. About 38.1%, or 1,402, of the state’s total deaths were people in long-term care facilities. The cumulative number of COVID-19 cases in LTC facilities is 7,397, about 5.1% of the state’s total cases.

A total of 26 deaths in Warren County were residents of LTC facilities.

MSDH is no longer reporting outbreaks in individual long-term care facilities in Mississippi and has replaced it with access to a database from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. You can access and search the data by provider here. The latest data available is for the week ending Nov. 8.

For additional information, visit the MSDH website.

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