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Thursday, May 19, 2011

New report on informants in Mississippi's criminal justice system

Justice Strategies and the ACLU have issued a highly critical report entitled: Numbers Game: The Vicious Cycle of Incarceration in Mississippi's Criminal Justice System. The report identifies three main problems in Mississippi: harsh sentencing policies, the misuse of multi-jurisdictional drug task forces, and the heavy recruitment and use of drug informants. The informant section analyzes numerous issues, including the widespread use of snitches in low income African American communities throughout Mississippi, and the social harm that this causes. For example:
A similar pattern and practice of using neighbors and friends as confidential informants is occurring in Flora, Mississippi, a tiny town of some 1,500 residents in Madison County--an area where complaints of racial profiling are common. Local police frequently threaten low-level drug users and sellers, coercing them to "snitch" on their friends.
Josephine, is a grandmother and lifelong Flora resident. According to her, Flora has never experienced a significant drug problem.... Josephine maintains that there are at least three known informants among the young people in Flora, and that many residents are frustrated with the local police because they are forcing young people to turn each other in. With considerable nostalgia, she recalls that people in Flora used to be very neighborly; they would talk about their families, joys and troubles, but now, "everybody don't fool with each other anymore. People keeping to themselves and not inviting each other in their homes." She says that people are afraid to go out at night. "Most young guys are scared to walk the streets at night because the cops mess with them." When her 20-year-old nephew does go out at night, she fears for his safety, not because of other Flora residents, but because of law enforcement agents: "Cops know how to scare you into snitching."
Some community residents view the use of CIs as not only tolerating criminal activity, but also enabling it--greatly diminishing the legitimacy of policing in their eyes. Another Mississippi mother, Sandra, says that her son's informer was allowed to continue his own criminal enterprise while turning in her son:
"They use people who already have a felony conviction and should be in prison, and give them 'paper time.' The week before they arrested my son, they search and arrest this guy. He had weed, crack and money on him. They gave it back to him and let him go on 'paper time' for snitching on my son."
The report concludes by proposing numerous reforms, including the establishment of an informant registry to keep track of people who are trying to work off their own criminal charges, a requirement that law enforcement report crimes committed by their informants, and a ban on using juvenile snitches.