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Mississippi gov says pandemic no 'excuse' to release inmates

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Wednesday that the state will not consider early release for prisoners during the coronavirus pandemic, even with inmates living in conditions that make social distancing difficult.

Posted: May 6, 2020 9:47 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Wednesday that the state will not consider early release for prisoners during the coronavirus pandemic, even with inmates living in conditions that make social distancing difficult.

“Unlike many other states, I do not believe we ought to use the excuse of a pandemic to change our sentencing structure in our criminal justice system,” the Republican governor said in response to questions during a news conference.

Mississippi has one of the highest incarceration rates in the United States. An advocacy group for inmate safety, the Mississippi Prison Reform Coalition, issued an open letter to Reeves this week. It demanded that the state release all juveniles, elderly and medically fragile people from custody. It also demanded release of all inmates who have been granted parole and are awaiting release and all inmates with less than two years left to serve.

“The men and women who are incarcerated remain fearful for their lives and are counting on you to help measure that don’t turn their sentences into a matter of life or death,” the coalition said in the letter.

Nsombi Lambright is executive director of One Voice, a human rights group that's part of the coalition. She told The Associated Press on Wednesday that inmates and prison employees need to be protected from the highly contagious virus.

“All of their lives are at risk,” Lambright said.

Empower Mississippi, a group aligned with Reeves on issues such as support of charter schools, has also called for the state to enact policy changes to reduce long prison sentences. Its director of employability and criminal justice reform, J. Robertson, told the AP on Wednesday that Mississippi needs to offer more coronavirus testing in prisons and provide easy-to-find information about results. Some other states have such information online; Mississippi does not.

“Prisons are a perfect breeding ground for this virus,” Robertson said.

Reeves said Wednesday that 37 Mississippi inmates have been tested for the virus, and four of those tested positive. He said 43 Department of Corrections staff members have been tested, and seven of those tested positive. Mississippi has more than 18,000 prisoners in custody. Reeves said testing has been done on inmates or prison employees showing symptoms of the virus.

The state said last week that inmates and prison employees have received masks and gloves. Some of the masks were donated by REFORM Alliance, a group affiliated with entertainment mogul Jay-Z.

Jay-Z, rapper Yo Gotti and Team Roc, the philanthropic arm of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, are paying for two federal lawsuits filed early this year to challenge living conditions in the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. The U.S. Justice Department announced in February that it had begun investigating Mississippi's prison system after several inmates were killed or injured in outbursts of violence in late December and early January. State health inspections have shown repeated problems in Parchman with broken sinks and toilets and moldy showers.

The state Health Department said Wednesday that Mississippi — with a population of about 3 million — had at least 8,424 confirmed cases and 374 deaths from the coronavirus as of Tuesday evening. That was an increase of 217 cases and 32 deaths from the previous day.

The number of coronavirus infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.

The Health Department said Wednesday that more than 80,300 coronavirus tests had been done in Mississippi as of Tuesday. The department said at least 1,008 cases of the virus had been confirmed in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, with at least 163 deaths from it in those facilities.

Reeves is easing some restrictions on restaurants. Starting Thursday, they may serve food in their dining rooms or in outdoor areas with limited numbers of customers. Servers must wear masks.

The Legislature is returning to the Capitol on Thursday to consider aid to businesses hurt by the pandemic.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 37542

Reported Deaths: 1272
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds304154
DeSoto200920
Madison150839
Jones123149
Harrison118316
Rankin113719
Neshoba104577
Forrest104343
Lauderdale97281
Scott83115
Jackson80419
Washington75313
Copiah67516
Leake63520
Lee63022
Grenada6259
Oktibbeha62328
Warren60021
Holmes59841
Lamar5847
Wayne56819
Yazoo5667
Lowndes54917
Leflore53956
Lincoln53835
Pike51120
Lafayette5094
Sunflower5058
Panola4616
Monroe46036
Simpson4533
Covington4505
Bolivar41618
Tate39513
Attala38624
Newton37710
Adams36720
Pontotoc3636
Marion34912
Claiborne31511
Pearl River30832
Chickasaw30219
Winston30211
Marshall2973
Jasper2826
Noxubee2799
Walthall2748
Clay26211
Smith25612
Union25612
Coahoma2356
Clarke22825
Lawrence2162
Yalobusha2089
Tallahatchie1974
Montgomery1863
Kemper18414
Carroll18311
Humphreys17410
Calhoun1705
Hancock15213
Itawamba1478
Tippah14711
Jefferson1373
Webster13511
Prentiss1274
Tunica1263
George1253
Jefferson Davis1254
Greene11610
Alcorn1112
Amite1113
Tishomingo1091
Quitman1011
Wilkinson1019
Perry914
Stone772
Choctaw764
Franklin572
Sharkey480
Benton470
Issaquena111
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 56441

Reported Deaths: 1136
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson7012170
Mobile5061140
Montgomery4599112
Tuscaloosa274353
Madison25359
Marshall205012
Shelby176425
Lee164737
Morgan13975
Baldwin134111
Walker111332
Elmore107622
Etowah106914
Dallas10189
DeKalb10017
Franklin95016
Unassigned77728
Autauga71515
Russell7130
Chambers68530
Cullman6686
Limestone6653
Butler65529
Houston6417
Tallapoosa63069
Lauderdale6006
St. Clair5983
Calhoun5545
Colbert5286
Escambia5128
Lowndes49222
Pike4805
Jackson4422
Coffee4364
Covington43512
Talladega4177
Dale4061
Barbour4022
Bullock37810
Hale36323
Marengo36111
Chilton3452
Blount3311
Clarke3236
Wilcox3158
Marion30914
Winston3095
Sumter29713
Pickens2786
Randolph2759
Monroe2683
Perry2552
Conecuh2388
Bibb2271
Macon2229
Choctaw22012
Greene2009
Henry1573
Washington1529
Lawrence1460
Crenshaw1343
Cherokee1317
Geneva1010
Fayette901
Clay892
Lamar891
Coosa671
Cleburne481
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