Groups Call for Justice Department To Investigate Mississippi Prisons after Violence Leaves Five Inmates Dead

In Mississippi's severely understaffed prisons, gangs run the show.


Several criminal justice advocacy groups and a member of Congress are demanding the Justice Department investigate conditions inside Mississippi's decrepit and understaffed prisons after violence last week left five inmates dead. 

Three inmates were killed at Mississippi State Penitentiary, more infamously known as Parchman Farm, last week. Two more were killed in South Mississippi Correctional Institution and Chickasaw County Regional Correctional Facility. Another two inmates also escaped during the chaos but have since been captured.

Now, in a letter to the Justice Department released today, the Southern Poverty Law Center, The ACLU of Mississippi, and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D–Miss.) say the state's "deliberate indifference to the risk of harm caused by overincarceration and grossly inadequate staffing violates the federal rights of the people in its custody and care."

"As indicated by its track record over the last several years and substantiated by the events of the last ten days, Mississippi is deliberately and systematically subjecting people in its care to a substantial risk of serious harm due to understaffing, in violation of the rights secured and protected by the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and it is no exaggeration to say more lives will be lost absent immediate intervention," the letter says. 

In a statement last week, Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) Commissioner Pelicia Hall said these are "trying times for the Mississippi Department of Corrections. It is never a good feeling for a commissioner to receive a call that a life has been lost, especially over senseless acts of violence."

The times have been trying for quite a while inside Mississippi prisons, but the state has done nothing about it. About half of the correctional officer positions in Mississippi prisons are vacant, the pay for guards is among the lowest in the country, and the state legislature has cut prison funding by $185 million since 2014.

In August of last year, the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting ran a story on the conditions at South Mississippi Correctional Institution: "Inside The Prison Where Inmates Set Each Other On Fire and Gangs Have More Power Than Guards."

That same month, a state audit of conditions inside Parchman found inmates and staff were subjected to black mold, raw sewage, broken toilets and sinks, exposed wiring, and vermin.

The severe staff shortage has led to extended lockdowns and months-long suspensions of visitations.

After last week's disturbances, inmates at Parchman were moved into a maximum security unit that has been closed for 10 years as part of a settlement in an ACLU lawsuit alleging inhumane conditions.

Contraband cell phone video taken by one inmate shows the conditions inside the condemned unit:

Local outlet 12 News also interviewed one inmate who'd been moved into the condemned unit:

12 News talked to a man who claimed he's an inmate at Parchman. The alleged inmate said, "I ain't took a shower since December 31st. Ain't brush my teeth. We ain't got mats, no blankets, no running water. I'm in Parchman. We are locked in 32, a condemned building. It's the closest thing to hell."

12 News asked the man how he got the cellphone. He said, "Soon as I got to 32, an officer sold it to me."

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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  1. I wonder if some judge will ever get up the gumption to rule that overcrowded prisons are cruel and unusual punishment and order releases. It didn’t go too smoothly in California.

    I also wonder if federal legislators will ever try a law forbidding overcrowding. I kinda doubt it, just for the political backlash.

    1. I suppose what I really think is that a proper system would put resources first; every spending bill would have to designate specific funding sources, and if those dry up before the end of the fiscal year, the program also stalls. Every government would have limits on jail/prison crowding, and no one could be incarcerated unless a spot is available at that moment. That would sure change things; they’d have to bite one bullet or the other.

      1. The question that I keep asking is, “is it really understaffing that is the problem here or that prisons are being run by people who just don’t give a shit?”

        1. No, the root problem is over-incarceration. Partly, that’s a result of well-intentioned but misguided attempts to “deinstitutionalize” the mentally ill. Mostly though, it’s a consequence of our self-destructive and entirely counter-productive “war” on drugs.

          If we stopped locking up so many people, we wouldn’t be straining the system’s resources.

          1. I took it to an older relative on just this subject recently. He was lamenting that a Presidential candidate (Buttigieg) was calling for decrim, and made a show of mocking him for “letting methheads run free leaving needles everywhere.”

            I then studiously avoided the personal ownership angle and lit him up with the list of second and third order effects of the drug war. Then I hit him with the cost angle. Then I hit him with the Portugal finish.

            It’s important to make sure people understand, the people you want gone don’t vanish once they get locked up. And the powers you expanded and gave to police to lock people up can be used on you at any moment, whether you like it not.

            1. I can’t believe this, but this might be the first time I actually agree with Tulpa.

          2. Yes and no.

            Mississippi is 3 or so in incarceration rate. 20% higher than Texas and 100% more than California.

            But it is about the same as Georgia and Louisiana.

            Do Ga and La have similar problems?

            1. Not an expert, but La does I think.

            2. Not sure about GA, but LA has epic and historically terrible correctional systems and facilities (not to mention pretty much every other aspect of the criminal justice system)

          3. I take over-incarceration as a given but even without it, Prison guards and administrators seem to be picked from the dregs of society.

  2. I hate to break it to you but many of America’s state prisons are controlled by gang members.

    Many prisons are self-separated by race and/or affiliation.

  3. Now, in a letter to the Justice Department released today, the Southern Poverty Law Center

    Skips rest of article, goes right to comments.

    1. That sentence is a fragment.

      1. If it’s a fragment, it’s not a sentence!

        1. No, it was, but you fragmented it.

          1. Fine. Since this is an article about prison abuses, we’ll just call it a “reduced sentence”.

    2. No shit. When I see the ACLU and SPLC on side of an issue, it is very difficult for me not to reflexively just argue for the other side. It sucks because a broken clock is right twice a day. And in this case, the problem is worth shining some light on.

    3. Yeh, I had a similar reaction when I saw the SPLC was involved in this letter. But as the other commenter said, even broken clocks are right twice a day.





    1. CNN – Off to never never land…

  5. “Meredith Robinett
    Replying to
    Has anyone heard from Judge Napolitano on this?”



  6. Thank God we got rid of the scourge that was private prisons.

    1. It’s really fascinating to see people discuss private prisons. They act as if getting rid of them would solve everything else wrong with the criminal justice system, as if the vast majority of the incarcerated are not in 100% public facilities.

  7. half of the correctional officer positions in Mississippi prisons are vacant, the pay for guards is among the lowest in the country

    Obviously the solution is robotic guards.

  8. Obey the law. you won’t be a victim of the prison system. Like, duh.

    1. Except, you know, all the people who are wrongly convicted?
      Even if it is less than 1%, that means that nearly every one of those prisons has at least someone in there who did not commit a crime, and you think it is ok to torture them?

  9. Still safer than Jackson at night

  10. Breaking news: Violent inmates act violently.

    1. And they should just be allowed to be violent?

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