Concern About Human Trafficking in Mississippi

During the upcoming legislative session, the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office will make a push to tighten Mississippi’s human trafficking laws.

As it stands, someone who trafficks humans to sell their forced labor or services is subject to up to 30 years in prison. Anyone who benefits from those services can be sentenced to 20 years in prison, and anyone who restricts access to a person’s immigration or government documents in order to secure their labor can be dealt up to five years in prison. Adding fines of up to $1 million – as exist with drug trafficking convictions – would help enforcement and also could deter the rising national criminal trend of human trafficking.

It also would create a victims’ compensation system so that victims of trafficking can receive services to help them re-enter society. There are also hopes to add asset forfeiture language to the law that will allow authorities to take the vehicles used by traffickers to transport victims and the buildings used to house them in order to help pay for the investigations and victims services. “Right now, even if we had a perfect investigation of a human trafficking case, what do we do with the victim?” asked Heather Wagner, Mississippi’s special assistant attorney general . “If it’s a minor child who’s been involved with prostitution, putting them in a home with other children may not work and if it’s an adult, they need resources we don’t currently have.”

Wagner said access to the Gulf Coast ports, the I-55, I-10 and I-20 corridors, international airports and fast access to large cities like New Orleans, Dallas, Memphis, Birmingham and Atlanta make Mississippi prime for seeing human trafficking. Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said he would like to see stricter laws before trafficking becomes a significant problem in the area. Proactive legislation to deter human traffic before it becomes commonplace is what Johnson said is key.

Mississippi Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, said a law that will force traffickers to pay for victims’ services is something the state needs.  “I am generally supportive of their bill,” Collins said of the bill that the Attorney General’s Office tried to pass last year. “I think it’s a huge issue I was previously not aware of and something we’ve got to do something about. The restitution process is something we need to discus, to make sure people who are victims of trafficking receive services.”

Learn more at JB Clark’s Daily Journal article: Human trafficking a growing concern among lawmakers, enforcers.

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