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: 307519

Reported Deaths: 7096
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto20784248
Hinds19894408
Harrison17493302
Rankin13316275
Jackson13099243
Madison9896210
Lee9859169
Jones8293160
Forrest7523146
Lauderdale7189237
Lowndes6265144
Lamar610784
Lafayette6028117
Washington5280132
Bolivar4770129
Oktibbeha455297
Panola4442103
Pearl River4420139
Warren4281118
Marshall4273100
Pontotoc416472
Monroe4057132
Union403775
Neshoba3988176
Lincoln3871108
Hancock372185
Leflore3468124
Sunflower329389
Tate322781
Pike3181104
Scott310572
Yazoo304368
Alcorn297764
Itawamba296876
Copiah293065
Coahoma289677
Simpson287484
Tippah284868
Prentiss275659
Marion265979
Wayne261341
Leake261173
Grenada254982
Covington254580
Adams245982
Newton244859
George237847
Winston225981
Tishomingo222067
Jasper219748
Attala213373
Chickasaw204857
Holmes186471
Clay182454
Stone179131
Clarke176876
Tallahatchie175540
Calhoun163230
Yalobusha158836
Smith158634
Walthall130543
Greene129433
Lawrence126323
Noxubee125933
Montgomery125542
Perry125138
Carroll120826
Amite120141
Webster113432
Jefferson Davis105432
Tunica102525
Claiborne101330
Benton97225
Kemper95226
Humphreys94332
Franklin81923
Quitman78916
Choctaw72817
Jefferson64828
Wilkinson64727
Sharkey49617
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 519071

Reported Deaths: 10712
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson754131487
Mobile37774798
Madison33868494
Tuscaloosa25283443
Montgomery23969565
Shelby23112238
Baldwin20638300
Lee15524165
Calhoun14286311
Morgan14140268
Etowah13664345
Marshall11957219
Houston10383278
Elmore9994200
Limestone9814147
Cullman9475188
St. Clair9429234
Lauderdale9218227
DeKalb8747181
Talladega8060171
Walker7092275
Jackson6755110
Autauga6727103
Blount6488135
Colbert6205130
Coffee5401112
Dale4768110
Russell428938
Franklin419982
Chilton4083109
Covington4053114
Tallapoosa3893146
Escambia388074
Dallas3527149
Chambers3500122
Clarke346360
Marion3066100
Pike305875
Lawrence295395
Winston272372
Bibb256458
Marengo248661
Geneva245875
Pickens232959
Barbour224955
Hale218775
Butler212366
Fayette208960
Henry187844
Cherokee182044
Randolph176941
Monroe171540
Washington164038
Macon154848
Clay149454
Crenshaw149357
Cleburne146041
Lamar139334
Lowndes136453
Wilcox124327
Bullock121340
Conecuh109028
Perry107926
Sumter102932
Coosa99328
Greene90734
Choctaw58724
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