North Texas Daily

There are ongoing problems in Mississippi prisons

There are ongoing problems in Mississippi prisons

There are ongoing problems in Mississippi prisons
February 19
18:59 2020

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would conduct an investigation on the following four Mississippi prisons: Parchman State Penitentiary, Southern Mississippi Correctional Institution, Central Mississippi Correctional Facility and Wilkinson County Correctional Facility.

These investigations come after a prison riot broke out late December of last year in which 15 inmates died. Two of those deaths are said to have been by suicide and the rest are believed to be gang related killings, according to Scott Neuman, a reporter for NPR. Twenty-nine officers have also been said to have been assaulted during this time period. This investigation comes just a year later after the U.S. Department of Justice had launched an investigation on Alabama State prisons for reports of cruel and unusual punishment and inhumane conditions. Both Alabama and Mississippi hold the highest rates of incarceration in the country. 

The investigation is set to primarily focus on if the Mississippi Department of Corrections adequately protects its inmates from physical harm at the hands of other prisoners, provides adequate mental health services and suicide prevention and will specifically look into Parchman’s penitentiary use of solitary confinement, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Mississippi prisons are also known to have inhumane conditions. They have skant running water, rampant vermin and force inmates to sleep on floors with no mattresses, according to Zak Cheney-Rice, a reporter for Intelligencer – New York Magazine. The Mississippi Department of Corrections has operated its prisons in a constant state of crisis, neglect and abuse for many years. The neglect and abuse of the department have caused extreme suffering that is ultimately preventable and have violated thousands of prisoners’ Eighth Amendment right. 

As stated earlier, Mississippi has one of the highest incarceration rates of any state in America. However, this is becoming an issue because many correctional officers have to work long hours and get paid a low salary. The issue is so severe that many guards rather falsify their counts instead of actually counting the inmates. Legislators in Mississippi have turned down repeated requests for money to improve their prisons which also raises a considerable amount of suspicion. Thus, leading to an underfunding of correctional institutions in the state. 

Mississippi is known to have high rates of gang violence among its prisons. In fact, gangs exert so much control that they determine when and where an inmate sleeps and have more power than correctional officers, according to a report published by ProPublica. The riots and conditions of Mississippi prisons have gained national attention due to the amount of deaths that have occurred in these prisons in a span of less than two weeks. “The level of violence and lethality seen in Mississippi prisons is a level of violence that we associate with prisons in countries like Brazil and Honduras, not the United States,” David Fathi, director of the ACLU National Prison Project, told Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting. In Honduras prisons are 193 percent over capacity and gangs also exert the majority of control, according to World Prison Brief. 

The investigation will be conducted under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CIPRA), according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Under this act, the DOJ has the right to investigate any constitutional rights of prisoners that may have been violated. Under the Obama Administration CIPRA was very much in use and the administration encouraged the DOJ to look into any prisons that could be potentially violating the law. However, under the Trump Administration, that has changed.

The current administration has contributed to the DOJ not being keen in wanting to bring about change in a fast manner therefore, the investigation on the Mississippi Department of Corrections may take a long period of time before it is finalized. The only factors that contributed to the DOJ actually launching an investigation in this case is because the riot gained national media attention, there was a high death toll and state officials had to acknowledge that the system was in a state of crisis, according to Kim Bellware from The Washington Post. The only foreseeable solution to solving the issues within the Mississippi department of Corrections is to hire more correctional officers, increase the salary for those correctional officers but most importantly stop the practice of mass incarceration. 

Featured Illustration: Austin Banzon

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Eunice Hernandez

Eunice Hernandez

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