Mississippi

They now have to oversee the future funding of Mississippi’s prisons. One of them is insolvent. The Mississippi State Penitentiary, Parchman, has witnessed at least 16 violent deaths in the last nine months. It now ranks among the most dangerous prisons per capita in the world. Eight suicides and eight murders are among those that have occurred. According to the state Crime Lab and the coroner, a ninth possible homicide remains under investigation. David Fathi, director at the ACLU National Prison Project, said that this is the level of violence and murder we associate with prisons from countries like Brazil or Honduras and not the United States. Some inmates were moved to a darkened, unlit unit, while others were bused to a private prison in Vermont. Other maximum security inmates were transferred to the private prison. The state officials also examined whether these super-max prisoners could be relocated to a private, closed prison that was originally built to house juvenile felony offenders. The state Legislature is currently deciding how much MDOC to pay. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee recommended that the budget be cut even further. Governor Parchman is blaming the inmates for Parchman’s poor conditions, not years of neglect and underfunding. In cooperation with the state and local authorities the Justice Department is currently investigating violence and conditions in state prisons. The Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting has been monitoring and reporting on these issues for over a year. January 23rd, the new governor. On Jan. 23, new Gov. The Conditions Reeves confessed on Twitter that he saw “some pretty rough conditions” in Parchman, a notorious state prison. ProPublica and the center investigated the matter and found that Parchman had been neglected by state officials who knew for years about the deteriorating conditions. Documents show that the Environmental Protection Agency has been citing the prison’s sewage systems since 2017. The drinking water has been subject to nearly 100 violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act over the past eight years. Parchman prison and other Mississippi prisons were closed to federal oversight in 2011. Conditions have quickly deteriorated according to records from the Mississippi Department of Health. One year later, no inmates were charged with being without power or lights. Inspectors had cited 300 cells last year. Six Parchman inmates were found to be without bedding or mattresses in 2012. More than 250 prisoners had this problem last year — almost 8% of the prison population. Reports reveal a host of problems, including holes in prison walls and prison doors, collapsing ceilings, broken commodes and sinks, tiles, exposed wiring, bird nests in windows, and roaches throughout the prison. The roof of Maximum-security Unit 29 is flooded when it rains. Corrections officials acknowledged that inmates dug holes in the concrete slab, which was not reinforced, large enough for them to conceal contraband weapons, drugs, and phones. Doors and locks have been broken. Vanessa Carroll, an Atlanta lawyer, was alarmed by these conditions when she visited Unit 29’s “J”, building with clients a few weeks back. She stated that prisoners at Unit 29’s “J” building told her they had not had a yard visit since Dec. 2 and that they hadn’t received showers since Dec. 28. She said that they have not been able flush their toilets for nearly a week due to problems with the sewage system. She said that the smell in the unit was “unbearable” and that the men are unable to maintain basic hygiene due to a lack of water and showers. She said that one client had sores on his abdomen and a rash that was likely caused by the unsanitary conditions. Inmates also complain of diarrhea and that the water from the tap sometimes turns brown. She said that many cells were infested by rats and covered in mold. She wrote that the exhaust fan for the unit had been damaged for a long time. Parchman was also visited by lawmakers. This visit brought back fond memories for Robert L. Johnson III (state senator), who visited the prison between 1987 and 1991 while working as an attorney general in Mississippi. The prison was buzzing with activity back then, recalled the Natchez Democrat. He was shocked by the insufficient staff when he entered the prison grounds on Jan. 10. According to correctional officers, there is usually only one officer who can watch over 128 inmates. They are housed in two buildings. According to the state Personnel Board, MDOC had 1,591 correctional officials in 2014. This number was down to 732 at the end December. Johnson was horrified by the conditions inside. Johnson observed water seeping through the ceiling while visiting a counselor. “You could see where rats ate through the walls,” Eldon Vail, a former Washington state corrections secretary, stated that these conditions are directly linked to increased violence. This is Corrections 101. It’s well-known and there are repeated instances in the history corrections.” The Responses Pelicia Hall, then-Corrections Commissioner, addressed Mississippi lawmakers late 2018. She stated that she needed $22million to fix Unit 29, as well as raises of correctional officers. She spoke with Philip Gunn, House Speaker, about her department’s funding requirements. Gunn replied, “I cannot go in there and request the House to fund this kind of money in an electoral year.” A state official quoted Gunn’s response. Gunn said that he didn’t remember that conversation but that he did recall that every state agency asked for more money. Many of them are for raises. Gunn was asked about the $215million in MDOC cuts since 2014. He said that he doesn’t remember the exact reasons but that there were “significant reductions across the board in 2016 due to a downturn, and we had to tighten ourselves belts.” Gunn also stated that the 2018-Lt. Governor. Reeves visited the South Mississippi Correctional Institution, Leakesville. Employees shared with him their concerns about the dangerous conditions and understaffing due to low wages. They also complained about the power of the gangs as a result of the shortage of staff. Employees claim that Reeves did not respond to their concerns and then left. His office didn’t respond to a request to comment. MDOC officials requested $78 million in additional funding for fiscal 2021. Nearly a third of this money was to renovate Unit 29 and nearly $50 million would be used for raises for correctional officers. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee (which sets state spending priorities) is recommending that lawmakers reject this request and reduce the corrections budget by 8.3 million. Reeves is asking legislators to maintain MDOC’s budget despite past cuts and current woes. He also promised that correctional officers would be paid fairly. His budget does not call for more investment, but “we don’t want to blindly ask for an increase in order to reach a vague goal.” Reeves has asked the Department of Finance and Administration for an analysis of MDOC spending in order to “accurately identify where taxpayers’ funds are currently being spent (or mis-spent). The state lawmakers who returned to Jackson are still considering their options. Juan Barnett, a Democrat hailing from Heidelberg, chairs the Senate Corrections Committee. While there are some problems that need to be fixed it is important to address the whole system, from facilities and personnel. He said that a raise for correctional officers does not necessarily solve all problems. “We must take our time and address all issues as thoroughly as possible,” he said. Although Gunn and Reeves didn’t say much about prisons during the campaign, they both have moved corrections to number one on their lists. Gunn stated that “Corrections” is the most pressing issue at hand. Reeves stated at a news conference that “We know there are problems within the system.” They don’t want them to be hidden. We want to fix it.” Reeves blames the previous administration for the problems. Reeves said that lawmakers did not trust the leadership and asked how the Corrections Department spent its money. The Warnings In January 2019, MCIR questioned Corrections Department officials regarding vacancy rates and turnover rate for correctional officers. Hall stated publicly a week later that the Corrections Department was under “pressure cooker” because of these vacancy rates which had reached 50% by fall. Vail, who was in charge of Washington’s prisons, stated that without staff supervision, “control will not be exercised by those most powerful, probably the gang leaders.” The Marshall Project also reported in June on an internal audit at Wilkinson County Correctional Facility in December 2018. Jody Bradley, then-Warden, allegedly instructed gang leaders to “control the men” and that if they didn’t, he would lock down the entire unit, confining every inmate to their cells. According to the audit, the warden stated that “using gangs in this manner is how Mississippi prisons work.” It’s not right, but it’s true.” MTC, the private prison operator, denied the allegations. Issa Arnita is MTC’s director of corporate communications. She stated that they have never given control over the Wilkinson facility to gang leaders. “That is not the reality at the prison.” Similar allegations were made against East Mississippi Correctional Facility by the Mississippi Center for Investigative reporting. Litigation alleges that MTC officials “depend upon the gangs to manage the facility. MTC denied all allegations against EMCF. Russell Turner, a newspaper editor who sits on the citizens’ advisory committee to South Mississippi Correctional Institute, stated that the local prison was “a ticking bomb.” ProPublica and MCIR reported in August that gangs had so much control over the prison that they could determine where prisoners slept and whether or not they had mattresses. Inmates described how gangs took their photos with their cellphones so that they could be transferred to another part of the prison. The fees charged by gangs for beds, wall phones and food, as well as showers, were also significant. Inmates claim they are forced to join a Mississippi gang. One inmate stated that most of the prisoners are now affiliated. “Or they’re victims.” A top SMCI official was quoted as saying that the prison was run by the gangs. Grace Fisher, a spokesperson for MDOC denied the “alleged statements” that gangs controlled SMCI and other prisons. This assertion is contrary to the agency’s public safety mission.” In the Riots Days following Christmas, violence broke out at Wilkinson prison. A former Gangster allegedly insulted a correctional officer. Two Vice Lords retaliated and beat the prisoner, prisoners told MCIR. The conflict quickly escalated into what authorities called a “gang warfare” and Gangster Disciple Terrandance Dobbins (40) was reported to have been killed in SMCI. Parchman was among the next targets. Parchman’s inmate told MCIR, ProPublica and other prisoners about the nightly gang fights he witnessed. He said, “They ran out the (correctional officers), out of the building last evening.” “I don’t know what they’re going to do. They are short of staff. They banged all night. You won’t be able to list my name. He said that the battles were “worse than ever before.” They are supposed to serve us breakfast at 5 a.m but they haven’t. Denorris Howell (36), was reportedly strangled to death at Parchman in what appeared to be a gang murder. According to ProPublica and MCIR, you can hear an inmate cheering for the death. Despite state officials claiming they had stopped the war, the deaths in Parchman continue. Two members of the Simon City Royals, a Chicago-born gang that CNN called the fastest growing in Mississippi, were beaten and killed on Jan. 21. Officials from MDOC announced the deaths on Jan 21st. They claimed that this was an isolated incident and not a continuation to recent retaliatory murders. The Response Corrections officials initially responded to violence by placing dozens of inmates in buses and temporarily moving them to Parchman’s Unit 32. After the ACLU filed a lawsuit over conditions inmates at the supermax facility, the unit was shut down almost ten years earlier. Inmates complained about food shortages, moldy and standing water, lack of running water and walls falling down. Two inmates escaped when they saw that the back door was not locked. Later, they were captured. Then-Gov. Phil Bryant promised that anyone who continued gang violence would “charged and brought before justice.” Gang violence will not tolerated in state prisons and on our streets.” Bryant signed a contract to CoreCivic, a Nashville-based company (previously known as Corrections Corp. of America), to house almost 400 inmates at Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility. However, 625 remain in Unit 29. Corrections officials claim they don’t have the manpower necessary to move these inmates. Reeves declared that Unit 29 would be closed in his State of the State address. Death Row will still remain. He said, “I’ve had enough.” “We must turn the page.” His office has begun a nationwide search for a new corrections chief. Tommy Taylor, a former Mississippi lawmaker, is acting as interim commissioner. In the wake of violence, one bill was to allow up to 15 years imprisonment for cellphone possession behind bars. Scott Roberts, senior director of Criminal Justice Campaigns at Color of Change, stated that this proposal was another attempt by Mississippi to avoid accountability for its failing prison system. “Without cellphone photos and video, we may not have known the severity of the crisis at Parchman, and other facilities,” said Scott Roberts, senior director of Criminal Justice Campaigns at Color Of Change. In January, Reeves visited Walnut Grove Correctional Facilities, a private prison that the state closed in 2016, following violence. Reeves and other leaders of the state have discussed moving inmates from Unit 29, which is currently under state control, to this prison. The state owes over $97 million for the prison. Walnut Grove residents are not happy with this possibility. “Parchman is an management problem. Gwendolyn Barkton Reid, a Walnut Grove resident who worked in corrections, stated that relocating to Walnut Grove won’t solve the problem. She said that the most fundamental problem is this. Reeves said that they will not be able to find the staff needed to manage these inmates. He also stated that he would restrict contraband cellphones and screen correctional officers for gang affiliation. Reeves said that 99.9% of prison problems were due to inmates. Amanda Hamilton, Mississippi Dreams Prisoner Advocacy’s mother, stated that her son, who is currently in a state prison, was upset by the comment. She also referred to the terrible conditions at Parchman.
She said, “They didn’t cause the leaky roofs.” They didn’t cause the mold. They didn’t cause the mold.” She said that prisoners behave like animals when they are treated like animals. She pointed out that it is the staff who bring in contraband, cellphones, drugs, and other contraband, and not the prisoners. Reeves promised greater transparency in his talk. Reeves’ spokeswoman didn’t respond to telephone, email, or text questions. For fear of retribution, a former leader of Mississippi’s top gangs said that contraband will not be stopped soon due to the millions involved. He said that certain players in the game were making mid-six figures. “Numerous soldiers, guards make between $100,000 and $200,000 per year. It’s easy. Deaths continue due to the large amount of money involved with territorial disputes between gangs. He said that the death tolls continue because of the large amount of money involved in territorial disputes between gangs.

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