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Analysis: Mississippi prison virus protocols under scrutiny

Attorneys are feuding in federal court filings over coronavirus testing and safety protocols at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

Posted: Aug 23, 2020 5:41 PM

ACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Attorneys are feuding in federal court filings over coronavirus testing and safety protocols at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

Entertainment mogul Jay-Z and rapper Yo Gotti are funding a lawsuit filed early this year to challenge health and safety conditions in Parchman. Separately, the U.S. Justice Department said in February that it's investigating Mississippi's prison system — an announcement that came weeks after violence in late December and early January left some inmates dead and more injured.

Madeleine LaMarre, a nurse and prison health care consultant who is helping plaintiffs in the Parchman lawsuit, said in court papers Aug. 11 that she and a physician inspected the prison in February to determine whether inmates “were harmed by lack of timely access to medical care and the conditions of confinement.”

“I found, among other serious problems with access to care, that the conditions of confinement were the worst I had ever witnessed, including lack of adequate sanitation and disinfection that would promote the transmission of COVID-19 to inmates and staff,” LaMarre wrote.

Mississippi's first known coronavirus cases, outside prison walls, were detected in mid-March. A Parchman employee tested positive March 26 and exposed kitchen workers to the virus, LaMarre wrote. An inmate in the prison's hospital tested positive for the virus April 8, his condition worsened April 10 and he died April 11, she wrote.

On April 15, the state Department of Corrections and the private company providing prisons' health services announced plans to try to slow the spread of COVID-19. Those included stricter sanitation measures and requiring inmates whose beds are near each other to sleep head-to-feet rather than face-to-face.

LaMarre wrote in the Aug. 11 filing that the measures were not consistently followed. She wrote that a man housed in one unit at Parchman said a nurse checked inmates' temperatures twice a day but did not screen them for symptoms.

“Several inmates’ bunks were within 6 feet of his bunk and MDOC staff made no attempt to provide more physical space between bunks or to have inmates sleep head to foot, as planned,” LaMarre wrote. “Staff does not enforce social distancing of inmates. Inmates eat their meals together in the housing unit without social distancing.”

The state filed a response Aug. 17, which included a statement from Dr. James Glisson, the medical director at Parchman. Glisson wrote that Unit 31 at Parchman is reserved for inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19.

“There is a doctor present in Unit 31 at least three days a week,” Glisson wrote. “He makes regular rounds within the unit and speaks with each patient who has tested positive for COVID-19. He addresses the immediate needs of patients and confers with me regarding their treatment as well as needs for re-testing and movement of COVID-19 positive inmates.”

Glisson also wrote that a nurse works in Unit 31 about 10 hours a day, seven days a week.

In response to questions from The Associated Press on Friday, Department of Corrections spokeswoman Grace Simmons Fisher said COVID-19 testing in the state's prisons is based on symptoms and as a result of contact tracing.

“Inmates who have possibly been exposed to other inmates with COVID-19 symptoms in the same housing unit are being tested as a precaution, especially if they have underlying conditions that may put them at a higher risk of complications from the virus,” Fisher said.

The Department of Corrections said that as of Friday, 510 Mississippi inmates had tested positive for COVID-19, and 112 of those cases were still active. Fisher told the AP that she was unable to say how many of the inactive cases were from inmates who had died.

Glisson works for Centurion, a private company that provides medical services at Parchman. In a July 7 letter to the Department of Corrections, Centurion CEO Steven H. Wheeler gave 90 days' notice the company will end its state contract as of Oct. 5.

Wheeler wrote that Centurion had improved medical services at Parchman, but “we do not believe we can further improve the effectiveness of our level of care without additional investment from the Department in correctional staffing and infrastructure.”

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 501652

Reported Deaths: 10024
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34353540
DeSoto32162408
Hinds31977631
Jackson24508383
Rankin22015390
Lee15596235
Madison14597280
Jones13867243
Forrest13461252
Lauderdale11998317
Lowndes11065188
Lamar10522136
Pearl River9547237
Lafayette8557140
Hancock7740127
Washington7443160
Oktibbeha7147133
Monroe6787178
Warren6706176
Pontotoc6677104
Neshoba6642206
Panola6542131
Marshall6476135
Bolivar6323150
Union605794
Pike5824152
Alcorn5676102
Lincoln5439135
George497479
Scott473098
Tippah470381
Prentiss469182
Leflore4663144
Itawamba4640105
Adams4592119
Tate4592111
Copiah448792
Simpson4448116
Yazoo444887
Wayne440072
Covington429094
Sunflower4240105
Marion4232108
Coahoma4168107
Leake408688
Newton381779
Grenada3711108
Stone360664
Tishomingo360092
Attala331789
Jasper330165
Winston314691
Clay308977
Chickasaw301067
Clarke292594
Calhoun279447
Holmes267987
Smith264150
Yalobusha234547
Tallahatchie228251
Greene219449
Walthall218764
Lawrence213140
Perry205956
Amite205256
Webster203046
Noxubee186840
Montgomery179657
Jefferson Davis172243
Carroll169338
Tunica160039
Benton149239
Kemper141941
Choctaw133326
Claiborne132837
Humphreys129638
Franklin120328
Quitman106528
Wilkinson105139
Jefferson94734
Sharkey64220
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 820312

Reported Deaths: 15407
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1148731924
Mobile726221339
Madison52362697
Shelby37640350
Baldwin37266552
Tuscaloosa35120612
Montgomery34123740
Lee23540246
Calhoun22236488
Morgan20958378
Etowah19838500
Marshall18381304
Houston17394412
St. Clair16078339
Cullman15468293
Limestone15354199
Elmore15271286
Lauderdale14323295
Talladega13851283
DeKalb12664261
Walker11221370
Blount10207176
Autauga10048148
Jackson9877184
Coffee9211191
Dale8904185
Colbert8877201
Tallapoosa7093198
Escambia6778134
Covington6715183
Chilton6648162
Russell637559
Franklin5969105
Chambers5612142
Marion5010127
Dallas4979200
Pike4796106
Clarke475884
Geneva4575127
Winston4522103
Lawrence4327117
Bibb425386
Barbour357876
Marengo338390
Monroe331664
Randolph329864
Butler326796
Pickens316584
Henry312866
Hale311688
Cherokee302960
Fayette294180
Washington251651
Cleburne247760
Crenshaw245375
Clay243368
Macon234863
Lamar224847
Conecuh186353
Coosa180340
Lowndes175464
Wilcox168939
Bullock151744
Perry138940
Sumter133238
Greene126744
Choctaw88527
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