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.

Cases: 297321

Reported Deaths: 6805
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19814231
Hinds18949395
Harrison16886282
Rankin12842265
Jackson12750234
Lee9720163
Madison9516204
Jones8035148
Forrest7289138
Lauderdale6872228
Lowndes6061140
Lamar593381
Lafayette5767114
Washington5232130
Bolivar4630124
Oktibbeha443095
Panola433698
Pearl River4212132
Warren4144115
Pontotoc411071
Marshall405995
Monroe3996129
Union397174
Neshoba3848171
Lincoln3624104
Hancock352978
Leflore3400121
Sunflower320986
Tate303974
Pike302697
Scott296171
Alcorn292763
Yazoo292066
Itawamba290675
Coahoma283069
Tippah280065
Copiah279959
Simpson277581
Prentiss271258
Marion258878
Wayne255641
Leake254172
Covington250280
Grenada248878
Adams235778
George232745
Newton232753
Winston222179
Jasper214145
Tishomingo213266
Attala206971
Chickasaw201954
Holmes182870
Clay179452
Stone173429
Tallahatchie171739
Clarke170773
Calhoun158628
Smith153833
Yalobusha145736
Greene128133
Walthall125441
Montgomery123540
Noxubee123431
Perry123235
Lawrence121421
Carroll119425
Amite112435
Webster111132
Jefferson Davis102731
Tunica99824
Claiborne99030
Benton94024
Humphreys93128
Kemper91423
Quitman77514
Franklin76420
Choctaw70117
Jefferson62827
Wilkinson62727
Sharkey49217
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 499411

Reported Deaths: 10149
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson719951403
Mobile36396741
Madison32674469
Tuscaloosa24391423
Montgomery22789523
Shelby22250219
Baldwin19915289
Lee15070161
Calhoun13961296
Morgan13785255
Etowah13413327
Marshall11458215
Houston10121264
Elmore9509190
Limestone9435139
St. Clair9050228
Cullman8993183
Lauderdale8628214
DeKalb8507175
Talladega7643165
Walker6600260
Jackson6551104
Autauga634492
Blount6252128
Colbert6007121
Coffee5261104
Dale4680107
Russell407534
Franklin400779
Covington3996107
Chilton3911104
Escambia379473
Tallapoosa3637143
Clarke344553
Chambers3432111
Dallas3428142
Pike292973
Marion288796
Lawrence285787
Winston258568
Bibb246058
Marengo244657
Geneva240270
Pickens225757
Barbour213851
Hale212569
Fayette202657
Butler201466
Henry183541
Cherokee178140
Monroe166739
Randolph165141
Washington157036
Macon147845
Crenshaw146755
Clay146254
Cleburne140141
Lamar133933
Lowndes133151
Wilcox123225
Bullock117736
Conecuh107224
Perry106427
Sumter100832
Coosa90324
Greene88732
Choctaw55723
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