May 30, 2013
Diamondhead MS: The ACLU of Mississippi filed a lawsuit in Federal Court on behalf of Diamondhead, MS residents who allege that the Diamondhead Property Owners Association (POA) covenants, rules and regulations prohibiting yard signs and door-to-door campaigning violate their First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The City of Diamondhead is in the midst of its first municipal elections since incorporation in 2012.
The POA has a agreed to a Preliminary Injunction; residents and candidates began to place yard signs immedialty.
The ACLU sent an open letter to the POA last week asking the POA to assure residents that it would refrain from enforcing its covenants, rules and regulations that impermissibly violate its members' First Amendment rights. The POA had refused to give the residents such assurances, leaving them no recourse except to seek a judicial remedy.
The lawsuit and request for an emergency restraining order allege that the City and the POA are so intertwined that the POA has become a state actor subject to the demands of the Constitution. "The right to free speech is a fundamental right under our constitution," said Bear Atwood, Legal Director of the ACLU of Mississippi. "The U.S. Supreme Court has made it very clear that political speech enjoys special constitutional protection because it is crucial to maintaining a robust democracy and the freedom of expression and thought," she said.
"The courts have been unwilling to place restrictions on yard signs and on door-to-door solicitation," said Jennifer Riley-Collins, Executive Director at the ACLU of Mississippi. "Today the ACLU's lawsuit seeks to protect the First Amendment rights of Diamondhead residents to fully participate in the political process."
Founded in 1969, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi is a non-profit organization that works in the Deep South to defend and advance Constitutional rights for all Mississippians.
May 30, 2013
East Mississippi Correctional Facility is hyper-violent, grotesquely filthy and dangerous. Patients with severe psychiatric disabilities go without basic mental health care. Many prisoners attempt suicide. This video is the story of a young man who succeeded.
EMCF is a cesspool. Prisoners are underfed and often held in rat-infested cells without working toilets or lights. The prison is dangerously understaffed, and prisoners routinely set fires to attract the attention of officers to respond to emergencies. Without sufficient staff to protect prisoners, rapes, beatings, and stabbings are rampant. And some of the most sadistic violence is inflicted on prisoners by security staff.
EMCF is supposed to provide intensive treatment to the state's prisoners with severe psychiatric disabilities, but instead locks many in prolonged long-term solitary confinement – often for years – and denies prisoners even the most rudimentary mental health care services. Medical care is grossly substandard. One prisoner is now legally blind after EMCF failed to provide his glaucoma medications and take him to a specialist; another had part of his finger amputated after he was stabbed and developed gangrene.
The Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC), which ultimately bears responsibility, has known about these conditions for years but failed to protect the health and safety of prisoners. In 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center offered to pay for an assessment of the system, but the Mississippi Department of Corrections rejected the offer.
Today, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Law Offices of Elizabeth Alexander filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of prisoners at EMCF. The conditions at EMCF are blatantly unconstitutional and we fully expect to prevail in the lawsuit. We hope that MDOC Commissioner Epps will meet us at the negotiating table very soon to finally end the horrors and suffering at EMCF.
Reprinted from ACLU Blog
May 14, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 14, 2013
Jennifer Riley-Collins, Executive Director, ACLU-MS, 601-354-3408 or JRiley-Collins@aclu-ms.org
Bear Atwood, Legal Director, ACLU-MS, 601-354-3408 or email@example.com
DIAMONDHEAD, MISS. -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi sent an open letter to the Diamondhead Property Owners Association (POA) on Monday on behalf of several residents of the City of Diamondhead who have complained that the POA's rules, regulations, and covenants do not permit them to display political yard signs or engage in door-to-door campaigning. The City of Diamondhead is in the midst of its first municipal elections since incorporation in 2012.
In the open letter, the ACLU called on the POA to assure residents that it would refrain from enforcing its covenants, rules, and regulations that impermissibly violate its members' First Amendment rights. Bear Atwood, Legal Director of the ACLU of Mississippi, notes that the City and the POA are so intertwined that the POA has become astate actorsubject to the demands of the Constitution. "The POA claims the authority to censor any speech that it deems inappropriate in nearly all residential areas of the City,” said Atwood. “As a result, neither residents of Diamondhead nor candidates for political office enjoy the same rights to free speech as their counterparts in other municipalities."
"The U.S. Supreme Court has made it very clear that political speech enjoys special constitutional protection because it is crucial to maintaining a robust democracy and the freedom of expression and thought. We strongly encourage the Diamondhead POA to respect the rights of its members by allowing them to engage in political speech," said Jennifer Riley-Collins, ACLU of Mississippi Executive Director.
Founded in 1969, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi is a non-profit organization that works in the Deep South to defend and advance Constitutional rights for all Mississippians. Download the letter
April 19, 2013
April 19, 2013
Contact: Bear Atwood 601-354-3408 or firstname.lastname@example.org
THE ACLU OF MISSISSIPPI SUPPORTS VOLUNTARY STUDENT-LED PRAYER IN SCHOOL
Jackson, MS - The ACLU of Mississippi supports constitutionally protected, voluntary student-led prayer in school for students who want to pray. What ACLU-MS does not support is any policy or practice that violates the Constitution. This includes the practice of schools promoting one religious belief over another, therefore making a child of a different belief feel like an outsider or ostracized. It is the position of ACLU that religious education is best left to parents and their children, not public school officials. When school officials promote religion, they infringe on parents' rights to decide what religious beliefs, if any, their children are taught.
"All students should feel welcome at school, no matter what they believe. Our public schools should be focused on education, not religious indoctrination," said Bear Atwood, Legal Director at the ACLU of Mississippi.
"Allowing public schools to promote particular religions undermines our rich traditions of peaceful pluralism and religious diversity. Mississippi's population is becoming increasingly diverse. Let's respect the beauty of our differences. It is what will make us a stronger state," said Jennifer Riley-Collins, Executive Director at the ACLU of Mississippi.
April 17, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 17, 2013
Contact: Amelia McGowan, (601) 354-3408, email@example.com
JACKSON, MS – "The immigration reform bill proposed by the so-called 'Gang of 8' has the potential to be a historic advance for the civil rights and liberties of immigrants and all Americans," said Amelia McGowan, Staff Attorney of the ACLU of Mississippi. "The bill would allow millions of immigrants who contribute immeasurably to the vitality of this country to step forward on the road to citizenship." Mississippi is home to over 61,000 immigrants, according to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2010.
“While this legislation is certainly a breakthrough, it will have to be improved to address severe obstacles for many aspiring citizens,” said McGowan. The roadmap to citizenship should not exclude people based on minor crimes or people who can't afford hefty fines. The bill needlessly expands wasteful border spending at a time when border communities are safe, enforcement resources are at record levels, and prior benchmarks have been met.
In Mississippi alone, unauthorized immigrants comprise nearly 3% of the state's workforce and contribute $52.4 million in state and local taxes each year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy. The ACLU of Mississippi believes that the proposal's mandate to use job-killing, costly and privacy-invasive employment verification (E-verify) raises significant civil liberties concerns for all Americans, regardless of immigration status.
"Immigrants play a vital role in the culture and economy of Mississippi. The ACLU of Mississippi will fight every step of the way to ensure that immigration reform achieves citizenship and a fundamentally fair immigration system without harming anyone's civil rights and liberties,’ said McGowan.
April 16, 2013
Jackson, MS – April 16, The ACLU-MS, a non-profit organization that defends the Constitution and extends liberty to all persons applauds the decision by United States District Judge Daniel Jordan III to uphold reproductive justice for Mississippi women.
U.S. District Judge Jordan today blocked enforcement of a law that could have closed the doors of the only abortion clinic in Mississippi. The law imposes medically unjustified regulations that require all doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. The Admitting Privileges portion of the law was politically motivated and designed to make it impossible for women to obtain the care they need in Mississippi. If not for District Judge Jordan's decision, women of Mississippi would have most certainly been deprived their Constitutional Rights.
"Today's court decision should serve as a reminder to extremist politicians that the Constitution and the rights and protections therein are available to all, including women and their right to private decision-making," said Jennifer Riley-Collins, Executive Director of ACLU-MS. "Unfortunately, we are seeing politicians across the country attempting to push through similarly drastic measures. ACLU-MS will remain vigilant in its support of reproductive justice in Mississippi."
Today's case, Jackson Women's Health Organization, et al. v. Mary Currier, et al, was brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights. Download the decision
Contact: Jennifer Riley-Collins, (601) 354-3408, firstname.lastname@example.org
April 09, 2013
Jackson, MS – April 8, 2013: The ACLU-MS, a non-profit organization that defends the Constitutional rights and extends liberty to all persons announced the appointment of its new Executive Director, Jennifer A. Riley-Collins. Ms. Riley-Collins, a native Mississippian, is an attorney with a demonstrated commitment to social justice and equality. She brings 14 years of legal experience, along with more than 25 years of leadership and organizational management both as an attorney and a military officer.
Jennifer Riley-Collins is a member of the Mississippi Bar Association. She received her Juris Doctor from Mississippi College School of Law in 1999, Masters of Criminal Justice Administration from Central Texas College in 1993, and Bachelor of Arts from a Alcorn State University in 1987. Her career reflects service; she has formerly served as Hinds County Youth Court Public Defender. This opportunity ignited her zeal for juvenile justice and challenging legal barriers which channel children into the school house to jailhouse pipeline. Riley-Collins is a former Staff Attorney with Southern Poverty Law Center and former Juvenile Justice Fellow at Mississippi Center for Justice. These opportunities and some of her own personal life experiences afforded her the opportunity to see first-hand "there is still work to do" to ensure equal justice for all. Prior to becoming the new Executive Director, Jennifer was a mobilized U S Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel for five years. Read More
January 16, 2013
Mississippi students, parents, teachers, and youth advocates will attend the 1st Annual ACLU of MS’sFromthe CLASSROOM to the CAPITOL! Students from around the state will participate in morning workshops prior to going to the Capitol to meet state leaders. Leaders will be delivering the MISSISSIPPI STUDENT BILL OF RIGHTS which was created by students to address issues that concern them most and that prevent their success in their schools, communities, and for their future.
The Mississippi Student Bill of Rights was created by students in the summer of 2011 at the 4th Annual MS Youth Hip Hop Summit. “Students are learning ways to become engaged in the decision making process and today is just a beginning,” said Nancy Kohsin-Kintigh, Program Director, ACLU of MS. “Young people are concerned about over reliance on harsh zero tolerance policies, high teen pregnancy rates, and being criminalized by school policies and city ordinances for the way they dress.”
The ACLU of MS’s Youth Justice Project has been engaging students, parents, and youth advocates through Leadership Trainings and Know Your Rights Meetings over the last several years. Students are ready to engage civic leaders and the policies and practices that directly affect them. For many students, this will the first time travelling to the Capitol and meeting their legislators.
Young people across the state of Mississippi are organizing to make Mississippi a better place. The ACLU of MS is committed to ensuring that all Mississippi youth are afforded their civil liberties under the Constitution.
AGENDA - Tuesday, January 15, 2013
10am - MS Department of Education – Auditorium
359 N. West St. – Jackson, MS
1pm - MS State Capitol - South Steps (weather permitting)
Alternative location: MDE or Capitol Rotunda
The ACLU of MS’s Statewide Youth Justice Project seeks to end the School to Prison Pipeline by hosting educational forums, working for policy reform, advocacy and litigation. Student’s civil liberties are threatened through Zero Tolerance Polices in our schools and communities. Educate – Don’t Incarcerate.
January 16, 2013
Civil Rights Groups Unveil Findings on the Dangers of Extreme School Policies, and Recommend Alternative Solutions
The extreme student discipline practices that led the Department of Justice to sue one Mississippi county are far more widespread than previously thought, cites a new report from a coalition of civil rights organizations.
Titled Handcuffs on Success: The Extreme School Discipline Crisis in Mississippi Public Schools, the report details how extreme school disciplinary practices harm tens of thousands of Mississippi students who are removed from school every year for minor misbehaviors, such as violating dress codes and mouthing off to teachers. Many are also criminalized in the process. It also shows how this approach likewise harms teachers, law enforcement officials, community members at large, and the state’s economy.
In October 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against officials in Meridian, Mississippi for operating a school-to-prison pipeline. Through a pattern of arresting and incarcerating students, even for minor school infractions, investigators found that Meridian children were routinely pushed out of school and into the criminal justice system. The report finds that the scope of this devastating problem is much bigger, plaguing schools across the entire state of Mississippi.
Authored by Advancement Project, ACLU of Mississippi, Mississippi State Conference of NAACP, and Mississippi Coalition for the Prevention of Schoolhouse to Jailhouse, the report highlights numerous cases from across the state. In Holmes County, for example, a five-year-old child was driven away from school in a sheriff’s car for wearing shoes with red and white symbols, in violation of a dress code. Police reportedly arrested and threatened bodily harm to a half dozen DeSoto County students for arguing on a school bus. Other findings include:
“We encourage Mississippi legislators and education officials to consider commonsense, tested policies that improve school quality, public safety and economic prosperity,” said Judith Browne Dianis, Co-Director of Advancement Project and longtime advocate for an end to extreme school discipline policies. “Implementing a graduated approach to discipline, and using non-punitive measures focused on preventing misbehavior by providing supportive interventions, have been proven to reduce suspensions and expulsions while creating safe, effective learning environments for our youth.”
The advocacy groups are working with lawmakers to right the ship with proposed legislation. Some Mississippi school districts are doing the right thing, and best practices must be embraced and shared in a comprehensive strategy at the state level.
“The needless criminalization of Mississippi’s most valuable asset – its children – must be dealt with immediately by school leaders and the communities they serve,” said ACLU of MS Program Director, Nancy Kohsin Kintigh. “Zero-tolerance policies were originally designed to protect students from individuals who pose a threat on school grounds. Instead, they are being used to send children home for trivial things that should be solved in the principal’s office.”
MS NAACP President Derrick Johnson added, “The Department of Justice investigation into Meridian Public Schools put a spotlight on the school to prison pipeline in Mississippi. We have been working with these partnering organizations and lawmakers to find solutions to this process, and we believe the recommendations from this report help us to move in the right direction.”
The mission of the ACLU of Mississippiis to defend the inalienable human rights and freedoms guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights. The ACLU of MS meets its mission through litigation, advocacy, public education and community organizing. The ACLU of MS Youth Justice Project is one of the largest in the nation, empowering Mississippi’s children to know their Constitutional Rights and become leaders in their schools and communities.
Founded in 1909, theNAACPis the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.
Advancement Projectis a multi-racial civil rights organization. Founded by a team of veteran civil rights lawyers in 1999, Advancement Project was created to develop and inspire community-based solutions based on the same high quality legal analysis and public education campaigns that produced the landmark civil rights victories of earlier eras. From Advancement Project's inception, we have worked "on-the-ground," helping organized communities of color dismantle and reform the unjust and inequitable policies that undermine the promise of democracy. Simultaneously, we have aggressively sought and seized opportunities to promote this approach to racial justice.
The MS Coalition for the Prevention of Schoolhouse to Jailhouse is an intergenerational alliance of more than 65 statewide and local organizations formed in 2003 across traditional barriers of race and class to dismantle the pipeline from schoolhouse to jailhouse and promote positive behavior intervention strategies to keep students in school. The Coalition crafted the Juvenile Justice Reform Acts of 2004 and 2005 adopted by the legislature to eliminate the abuse of incarcerated children, to enforce the rights of incarcerated children to a public education, and to promote community-based alternatives to incarceration of children at facilities far from their families.
November 20, 2012
Minnesota lead the way by defeating both a Voter ID ballot initiative and an initiative to define marriage as only between a man and a women.
Maine, Maryland and Washington State passed initiatives making it possible for lesbians and gays to marry.
Florida defeated a measure that would have restricted access to abortion.
Colorado and Washington approved measures to legalize recreational use of marijuana. Read ACLU of Washington’s FAQ on the new Marijuana Regulation.
Maryland voted to permit students regardless of immigration status to pay in-state tuition at Maryland universities if they've graduated from a Maryland high school and fulfilled other requirements.
Civil Liberties suffered a blow in California where an initiative to eliminate the death penalty was narrowly defeated.