OXFORD, Miss.–Seven Ole Miss Law students, along with Professor Desiree Hensley, have volunteered to work with the Mississippi Working Interdisciplinary Network of Guardianship Stakeholders (WINGS) Committee by providing research and information needed to produce a report and recommendations for adult guardianship and conservatorship reform. Mississippi WINGS is a committee which proposes systemic reforms to support the rights, dignity and autonomy of adults who have diminished decision making capacity. Unfortunately, the law students have discovered that Mississippi law does not adequately support the ability of those with diminished capacity to retain a degree of autonomy over their own lives and decisions.
The students have conducted research and drafted issue briefs regarding some of the problems in Mississippi, including a lack of uniform, statewide case tracking, unclear standards for determining incapacity, a lack of focus on protecting people through less restrictive alternatives than use of a court ordered decision maker, a lack of a statewide system to provide guardians for the poor, and a lack of programs and services to monitor, train, and support guardians. The full WINGS committee met September 18 in Jackson to discuss these issues, and prioritized the committee’s work.
“Mississippi’s current law on guardianship and conservatorship is structurally convoluted and has not been revised to reflect current thinking about the rights of people who have diminished capacity,” said 3L student, Kris Simpson. Some of the reforms that will be proposed by the clinic students will be to simplify and clarify the law in Mississippi, to ensure that those with diminished capacity have full due process rights in court, to educate guardians and conservators who are appointed decision makers so that they have the tools they need to do a good job, and to provide publicly funded guardians for low-income people.
The committee’s goal is to protect adults with diminished decision making capacity from abuse and neglect without unnecessarily depriving them of important personal rights. The people who need this assistance are those who, for reasons other than being a minor, are unable to receive and evaluate information or make or communicate decisions to such an extent that the individual lacks the ability to meet essential requirements for physical health, safety, or self-care, even with appropriate assistance.
The next WINGS meeting will be December 11, where they will discuss the report and recommendations. The report will be finalized and published December 18 on mswings.org.