Catholic Day at the Capitol theme: reforms needed in mental health

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – The Diocese of Jackson’s Faith in Action Team (FIAT) hopes to spur legislators to enact meaningful reform in the realm of mental health care for the state, using as a catalyst the Catholic Day at the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 17.
Advocates who attend the day will hear about the problems currently crippling the system and get some ideas for how to advocate for reform. Mississippi is currently facing a lawsuit for its lack of compliance with the 2009 Olmstead Supreme Court ruling which required states “to provide community-based treatment for persons with mental disabilities when… such placement is appropriate.”
“Mental illness affects everybody,” said Sue Allen, Catholic Charities’ coordinator of social justice ministry and the planner for Catholic Day at the Capitol. “The speakers we have coming are two of the most articulate and knowledgeable people about health care and the state of mental health care in Mississippi you could find. To be able to listen to them and ask questions of the panel we have put together is a unique opportunity,” she added.
To offer perspective on day-to-day issues involving mental health, FIAT has invited Angela Ladner, executive director of the Mississippi Psychiatric Association and Joy Hogge, executive director of Families as Allies, as the keynote speakers for the day. The agenda also includes a panel discussion which will include people who work in fields impacted by the lack of mental health care, the chaplain of Parchman State Penitentiary and a victims’ rights advocate.
Hogge said her organization is made up of families whose children face mental health challenges. It offers parent-to-parent support, insight for policy-makers and advocacy for children. “We want to help on a system-wide level so organizations can be more responsive.”
“Our main goal is that families are partners in their children’s care. It is essential that they can be partners,” explained Hogge. She said there is a movement within the mental health community to provide care in the community for those facing mental health challenges. “We want to start with family-driven care using the idea of starting with what they really want to achieve and to support the families in reaching those goals.” Hogge said that means making services flexible so, for example, someone can stay in school or remain employed while they are getting treatment. “That might mean supporting the employer,” she said. She will be speaking about some practical ways people can advocate for change.
Angela Ladner is the executive director of the Mississippi Psychiatric Association, a statewide medical specialty organization whose physician members specialize in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental illnesses, including substance use disorders. Angela has persistently lobbied Mississippi lawmakers to make the necessary changes that will allow for more community-based treatment options.
The day starts at 9 a.m. at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle’s parish center. This year, participants can ask questions and interact with the panelists during the discussions. In addition to the keynote and panel discussions, attendees will have the opportunity to participate in Mass, eat lunch together and attend a news conference on the capitol steps about the need for reform.
Those who wish can tour the capitol and speak with lawmakers.
The day will conclude with coffee at the cathedral center at 3 p.m. The day is free, but it is essential that people register so organizers will have enough lunches on hand.
Register online at or contact Sue Allen directly at (601) 355-8634 or Large groups are welcome.

Catholic Day at Capitol returns in 2018

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Catholic Charities will again host Catholic Day at the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. Mental health is the keystone topic for the event. Angela Ladner from the Mississippi Psychiatric Association and Joy Hogge of Mississippi Families as Allies are the main speakers.
Catholic Day at the Capitol was founded as a way for Catholics from across the state to address their lawmakers. A team from Catholic Charities identifies key issues related to Catholic Social Teaching which the legislators may have on their agenda for the year. The committee then gathers resources for those who can advocate on behalf of the church and those who may be impacted.
In the last two years the event has gotten a makeover. The team used to be called the Poverty Task Force. It is now called the Faith in Action Team (FIAT) and hopes to bring Catholic Social Teaching to the forefront of social justice work throughout the diocese.
Sue Allen, coordinator for social justice ministry for Catholic Charities of Jackson, has been traveling to parishes in each deanery offering workshops about Catholic Social Teaching and about advocacy in general. She believes empowered and educated people can do more by meeting their lawmakers at home than by coming to the capitol during the busy session. In this way, Catholic Day at the Capitol becomes a day for people to gather and learn about key issues and take that information back to their parishes and communities, where they can advocate for better care for everyone.
Registration will open soon on the Catholic Charities website. Register by contacting Sue Allen at Catholic Charities at 601-383-3849 or by email at

Save the date: Catholic Day at Capitol set for Feb. 4

JACKSON – Catholic Day at the Capitol is set for Wednesday, February 4. This fifth annual event, sponsored by the Jackson and Biloxi Dioceses, brings social justice issues to the forefront of Mississippi legislators through the lens of Catholic social teaching.
The Catholic Charities Poverty Task Force is already engaged in thorough research and prayerful reflection to determine which issues are most pressing for the 2015 session and beyond.
Make plans to join Catholics from all across the state of Mississippi on February 4, to hear social justice speakers; attend Mass concelebrated by Bishop Joseph Kopacz of the Diocese of Jackson and Bishop Roger Morin of the Diocese of Biloxi; meet with state representatives and tour the capitol building.
Event details and registration information will be available soon. Those who wish to get involved now can contact the Catholic Charities office of Parish Social Ministry, 601-383-3849

Catholic Day at Capitol focuses on criminal justice

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – About 60 people from across the diocese came together Wednesday, Feb. 19, to talk about crime, punishment and healing at the 2014 Catholic Day at the Capitol sponsored by the Catholic Charities Poverty Task Force. The task force selected House Bill 585 (HB-585) as its main focus this year.
HB-585 is a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill addressing minimum sentencing, drug treatment and other approaches to redress crime, consider victims’ rights, rehabilitate offenders and heal the community. The day started with a pair of keynote speakers, Father Fred Kammer, SJ, of the Jesuit Social Research Institute based at Loyola University, New Orleans and Deacon Allen Stevens, a community organizer and advocate from New Orleans St. Peter Claver Parish. Attendees left with a packet of information and talking points about the issues.

Father Kammer explained what Catholic social teaching says about crime, specifically about embracing a system of restorative justice in which victims, offenders, the families of both and whole communities are part of the process of restoring the common good. “Attention must be paid to victims healing and recovery, but we can’t give in to punitive policies,” he said. He also pointed out statistics that indicate states in the Gulf South, especially Louisiana and Mississippi, lead the nation in incarceration, but have seen diminishing returns on those policies.

He urges communities to include drug treatment programs in jails and communities, end minimum sentencing and ‘three-strikes’ policies, address racism in both the criminal justice system and society at large and concentrate on building strong family structures, embrace community policing methods, challenge the culture of violence and offer rehabilitation to all offenders.

Deacon Stevens works with the Micah Project, a faith-based organization established by clergy in New Orleans to think of new and innovative solutions to problems in that city. He said they take a real grass-roots approach, asking community members what “keeps them up at night,” and building solutions from there. He said education and incarceration were constant themes in this effort. He pointed out that although drug use is consistent across all demographic groups, African Americans in Louisiana are three times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than their counterparts. Incarceration rates in New Orleans are among the highest in the nation, but, according to Deacon Stevens, locking up all those people is not helping address the root issues of crime. He urged attendees to join in the process of speaking up for reform, but warned them to be patient. “The effort of organizing is slow and arduous, you have to have the patience of Job,” he said,
Andre de Gruy, a member of the Criminal Justice Task Force, spoke about the specific bill working its way through the legislature. The 205-page bill has already been approved by the house, but de Gruy pointed out it is always good to contact legislators to let them know what issues are important to voters and thank legislators for their support.

The bill has passed out of committee and now faces a March 12 deadline for action.
Leslie Lee, a state defender who attended the day said this is not a Republican or Democratic issue, its an issue that impacts everyone. She has seen both sides of this debate, having been a prosecutor. She now works on a reintegration task force to help those getting out of jail get back to productive lives.

“We need to distinguish between the people we are scared of and the people we are mad at,” she explained. Violent, repeat offenders do not need to be treated in the same way as all offenders. She said in her work she sees many people with mental health issues, addiction and other challenges who could be helped back into society with rehabilitation, but would not benefit from incarceration with no treatment.

After Mass celebrated by Bishops Joseph Kopacz of Jackson and Roger Morin  of Biloxi and lunch the group gathered on the steps at the capitol for a press conference.
Advocates explained that Catholics can still contact their lawmakers to support HB-585. In fact, meeting with lawmakers while they are in their home disctricts might be a better way to get their attention.

To get a copy of the talking points and information on Catholic social teaching on criminal justice, email Monique Davis at