Jennifer Riley Collins, former executive director of the Mississippi ACLU, is the only Democratic candidate running for state attorney general. The answers below are the candidates' verbatim responses, with no edits whatsoever. Find more state legislative candidate questionnaires here. Read more 2019 state political coverage here.
What is your position on the use of outside counsel?
My duty is to the people of Mississippi. A lawyer has a duty to provide competent representation to their client. As Mississippi's next Attorney General my clients will be the citizens of this great state. I will always ensure any lawyer or law firm working on behalf of Mississippians possess the legal knowledge, skill, and capacity to provide the competent and zealous representation for complex litigation. When that expertise resides at home we will stay at home unless conflicts exist. When that expertise is outside Mississippi we will reach outside for assistance to fulfill our duty to the people.
What is your position on the state of mental-health care in Mississippi, and do you agree with the current attorney general's defense of the current system?
Mississippi citizens deserve access to comprehensive and consistent care, including mental healthcare. The government has a duty to provide mental, emotional and substance abuse treatment to those who may be in need. Our current system over relies on incarceration to address persons who should be treated. If not locking up people with mental illness, our default has been to hide them away in more traditional settings. We need to provide accommodations for persons with mental infirmity in the same way we do for others with physical limitations. We need to make sure every one of our citizens can thrive to their maximum individual capacity.
Where we can do better we must do better. It is the Christian thing to do.
How would you use your role to influence and affect policy changes?
The office of the Attorney General has the potential to coordinate change throughout the state. I will work with the MS Supreme Court to improve protocols using rules changes from evidence-based best practices. I will work with law enforcement and prosecutors to provide training to help divert those in need of care away from the criminal justice system when their actions may be a manifestation of their condition. Finally, I will advise and make recommendations to the legislature with hopes of expanding the availability of community-based treatment and supports. Much of this, however, relies on the legislature prioritizing vulnerable populations in the budget.
How would you use your power to hold corporations accountable and protect consumer interests?
I will ensure that the legislature, which is responsible for budget and taxation, is provided legal advisement to ensure corporations receiving tax cut benefits are held accountable. It is imperative that the government ensure the state is receiving what is asserted by corporations in a bargained-for exchange. Companies who assert creation of jobs as enticement for tax exemptions should be required to expressly state the categories of jobs (full-time, part-time, or contract) it will create and then be required to disclose—at regular intervals—its compliance with this agreement. As Attorney General, I would require such language in all contracts between the state and corporations receiving exemptions.
What do you think the right approach is to fighting the opioid epidemic, and how would you do so while also protecting access for those who need them to treat certain illnesses (such as pain management)?
I will combat the opioid epidemic by prioritizing people over their problems. My focus when people are suffering from an illness will be on treatment instead of punishment. Families, including innocent children, are harmed when substance misuse goes untreated.
Our approach to fighting the opioid epidemic will include building trust between law enforcement and community. We must make sure people who are suffering from opioid addiction or mental-health issues are not thrown into prison but instead receive treatment. By focusing on the cause of the problem rather than the symptom, we can mitigate the crisis without restricting access to those who need it. It's about prioritizing people, not penalizing illnesses.
I will also hold big pharmaceutical companies accountable when they knowingly target our already vulnerable communities.
What is your position on the use of the death penalty?
I personally disagree with the death penalty. However, Mississippi law allows for the penalty of death to be imposed. District Attorneys are responsible for seeking penalties appropriate under the law. As Attorney General, if a capital case reaches my desk I would ensure that full due process has been afforded. As a state we must ensure the full weight of the law is equally applied. I also want to ensure that the penalty is carried out humanely. Even in the process of death, people should be treated with dignity.
Are there any criminal justice reform measures you support? What would the role of district attorneys be?
I support smart reforms that ensure we prioritize people over prison. Mississippi is ranked 3rd for the number of people in our prisons. We need to ensure that we are not jailing people because they are poor, because they are struggling with their mental health or substance abuse issues, and that we make sure that people can work and be given second chances when they are released.
Do you believe Mississippi should restore the right to vote to people after they have served their time?
Yes. After a person has served their time they should have their full rights of citizenship restored.
Why are you running?
The Attorney General's office is an office for the people. As a native Mississippian, I have seen the issues facing the people and seen that a role needed to be filled. My life has been a demonstration of my commitment to serve all the people of this state. Being the next Attorney General would be a continuation of that lifetime of service.
Why are you the best candidate?
I am ready to serve! I am prepared and qualified to serve.
I served 32 years in the military, retiring at the rank of Colonel in June 2017. As an Army Intelligence Officer, I developed the analytical skills necessary to understand and solve complex issues. As an attorney, I have focused my practice on representing marginalized Mississippians and have used the law as a tool to provide a voice to the people.
As Attorney General, I will be the voice of the people and will be fearless in taking on the tough challenges. I will work hard to protect vulnerable populations, including veterans. I will combat the opioid epidemic, and will strengthen protections for victims of crime. I will be the Attorney General of all Mississippians not a contingency of them. If we believe it's liberty and justice for all, then we have to apply the law equally.
Read more 2019 state political coverage here. Find more candidate questionnaires at jacksonfreepress.com/2019msleg.