Prisons

Justice Department Investigates Appalling Conditions at Mississippi Prisons

Videos and photos smuggled out by Mississippi inmates have shown gruesome violence and wretched living conditions.

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The Justice Department is now reportedly investigating Mississippi prisons, in the wake of violence that left five inmates dead as well as news investigations that revealed wretched living conditions.

"This is what we wanted. This is what families with loved ones inside wanted," Kevin Ring, president of FAMM, a criminal justice advocacy group that called for an investigation, told the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), which first reported the investigation today. "A federal investigation is our only hope for finding out the full extent of the problem."

In the first week of this year, three inmates were killed at Mississippi State Penitentiary, more infamously known as Parchman Farm. Two more were killed in South Mississippi Correctional Institution and Chickasaw County Regional Correctional Facility. Another two inmates escaped during the chaos but were later captured.

The deaths followed years of deteriorating conditions inside the state's prisons. In August of last year, the Mississippi CIR ran a story on South Mississippi Correctional Institution headlined "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 at Parchman found black mold, raw sewage, broken toilets and sinks, exposed wiring, and vermin. Mississippi CIR reported today that Parchman has been cited for violating the Safe Drinking Water Act nearly 100 times since 2012. About half of the correctional officer positions in Mississippi prisons are now vacant.

Following the deaths, inmates used contraband cell phones to send out photos and videos of the gruesome violence and filthy living conditions they are exposed to daily.

Mississippi is now scrambling to move prisoners out of the worst units. Last week, several hundred inmates were relocated to a private prison run by CoreCivic, at a cost of $2 million to the state.

Rapper Jay-Z filed a federal civil rights lawsuit this week on behalf of 29 Mississippi inmates. "These deaths are a direct result of Mississippi's utter disregard for the people it has incarcerated and their constitutional rights," the lawsuit says.

The Justice Department did not respond to Reason's request for comment. 

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