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.

Confirmed Cases: 113876

Reported Deaths: 3238
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7894177
DeSoto693279
Harrison512983
Jackson450384
Rankin389486
Madison381293
Lee351479
Forrest300778
Jones289184
Washington256499
Lafayette248343
Lauderdale2437134
Lamar224238
Oktibbeha200854
Bolivar200477
Neshoba1842111
Lowndes178362
Panola169139
Leflore165887
Sunflower160949
Warren154355
Monroe148172
Pontotoc146119
Marshall141229
Lincoln138957
Pike138256
Copiah136936
Coahoma124936
Scott124929
Yazoo121733
Grenada121638
Simpson121249
Union117425
Tate116039
Leake114640
Holmes114460
Pearl River112959
Itawamba112225
Adams107343
Prentiss104819
Wayne100821
Alcorn98712
George97918
Covington97026
Marion94642
Tippah88922
Newton85627
Chickasaw84026
Tallahatchie84025
Winston83321
Hancock81628
Tishomingo80041
Attala79026
Clarke74351
Clay68421
Jasper67917
Walthall63827
Calhoun62212
Noxubee59617
Smith59116
Montgomery54323
Claiborne53716
Tunica52917
Yalobusha52614
Lawrence51214
Perry48723
Carroll48012
Greene47318
Stone46414
Humphreys42816
Amite42113
Quitman4196
Jefferson Davis40511
Webster37013
Wilkinson33720
Benton3335
Kemper32215
Sharkey28314
Jefferson27510
Franklin2403
Choctaw2056
Issaquena1074
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 155915

Reported Deaths: 2674
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson22988375
Mobile16788315
Tuscaloosa10235140
Montgomery9978197
Madison922894
Shelby727463
Baldwin661569
Lee651765
Marshall437249
Calhoun422461
Etowah421450
Morgan407135
Houston371734
DeKalb336029
Elmore317353
St. Clair289142
Limestone279730
Walker275593
Talladega263635
Cullman239925
Lauderdale218042
Jackson212515
Franklin203231
Autauga203030
Colbert198731
Russell19283
Blount191125
Dallas186327
Chilton185832
Coffee173211
Escambia172230
Covington171429
Dale166551
Chambers134343
Clarke133617
Pike132713
Tallapoosa131387
Marion107129
Barbour10129
Butler100240
Marengo100222
Winston91913
Geneva8617
Lawrence83732
Pickens83618
Bibb82514
Randolph82016
Hale75830
Clay73612
Washington73412
Cherokee73114
Lowndes70428
Monroe64510
Henry6436
Bullock63917
Crenshaw60330
Perry5856
Fayette56913
Wilcox56412
Conecuh56013
Cleburne5518
Macon53020
Lamar4745
Sumter47221
Choctaw39012
Greene34216
Coosa2033
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