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Mississippi scrambles to find cells for 625 violent inmates after Parchman prison unit deemed unsafe

A Mississippi penitentiary unit housing violent inmates "has a failing infrastructure," and while officials have moved hundreds of prisoners to a nearby priv...

Posted: Jan 15, 2020 4:15 PM
Updated: Jan 15, 2020 5:02 PM

A Mississippi penitentiary unit housing violent inmates "has a failing infrastructure," and while officials have moved hundreds of prisoners to a nearby private prison, 625 still need cells, the state Department of Correction says.

The move comes more than seven months after a state health inspector visited Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman and, in a 154-page report, graphically documented crumbling, unsanitary conditions in which prisoners lacked power and water and it "rains inside" the cells of one unit.

Following a series of clashes in the prison that left at least four prisoners dead — and later spurred rappers Jay-Z and Yo Gotti to assist prisoners in suing the state — the department last week said it had arranged for private prison firm CoreCivic Inc. to move 375 prisoners to Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Tutwiler, about 8 miles north of Parchman.

"The facility is already operational and sufficiently staffed to manage close custody inmates," state corrections said Commissioner Pelicia Hall in a statement. "The department acted swiftly because of the violence at MSP and a lack of manpower to restore and maintain order. We also cannot staff any other facility."

The department has not responded to CNN's email seeking comment and additional information.

Problems have been reported throughout Parchman, where roughly 3,600 of Mississippi's 19,000 inmates are incarcerated, but Unit 29, which can house 1,500 inmates, has the most issues, Hall has said for months.

"This facility, originally constructed in 1980 and renovated in 1996, has become unsafe for staff and inmates due to age and general deterioration," she wrote in an August budget letter.

This isn't the first time Hall has asked for help with the state's prisons. In August 2018, she requested the FBI help investigate the deaths of 15 inmates in the span of a month.

Report: Litany of problems at Parchman

In June, state Department of Health environmental administrator Rayford Horton issued a lengthy report, including scores of photos, outlining the conditions at Parchman. While it didn't focus solely on Unit 29, it documented several serious issues within the unit.

The unit's kitchen, for instance, had a missing soap dispenser, stopped-up garbage disposal, milk and food with no expiration dates, a fly trap "covered with flies," a ceiling leaking above a dishwasher and food that needed to be removed from a moldy, 75-degree cooler.

Unit 26's kitchen was singled out because supervisors were not wearing gloves while handling food, its toilet was leaking, there was no hand soap and Horton "observed a fly in the water being prepared to cook" and had to advise a prisoner to dump it out. In Unit 32, which houses the laundry area and another kitchen, Horton wrote that it was "raining in (the) freezer."

Numerous other issues were reported throughout the prison, though judging from the report, the inspector found Unit 29 especially problematic. Among the most commonly cited issues:

  • No power
  • No lights
  • No hot water
  • No cold water
  • No water at all
  • Inoperable toilets, sinks and showers
  • Toilet leaks
  • "Rains inside cell"
  • No mattress
  • No pillow
  • Mold
  • Dayroom lights out
  • Bird nests in windows
  • Holes in cell wall
  • Exposed wires

Problems with lights, power and water were evident in about 100 cells each, according to the report, while almost 100 inmates had no or damaged mattresses and about 200 prisoners had no pillows.

In one zone of a Unit 29 structure, Horton reported, "No power in building."

Correction officials were "cleaning" following "recent acts of vandalism," the department said, and after the recent violence, some gang members were placed in the maximum-security Unit 32, which is structurally sound, to separate them from their rivals and prevent further incidents.

Outgoing commissioner has asked for more money

In her fiscal 2021 budget request, Hall asked for $22.5 million to repair Unit 29, as well as $35.6 million to fill 800 vacant positions at three state prisons.

"The number of officers has continued to dwindle as the agency's pay has not kept pace with industry salaries and other professions," a DOC news release said, adding that officials would like to raise correctional officers' pay from $25,650 to $30,370, which would bring Mississippi in line with its four neighboring states.

Even with a 3% pay increase in July, Hall said, salaries of Mississippi correction officers are the lowest in the country.

Hall has resigned from her post and is slated to step down this week, but she said she would continue advocating for the department.

Mississippi's regional, state and private prisons were put on lockdown earlier this month as investigators sought answers on a rash of disturbances — some of them gang-related — that killed one prisoner at South Mississippi Correctional Institution in Leakesville, one at Chickasaw County Regional Correctional Facility in Houston and two at Parchman, officials said.

A fifth death at Parchman was not related to the disturbances, officials said.

Two inmates escaped Parchman during the melees but were apprehended days later.

In a January 9 letter to Hall and Gov. Phil Bryant, Team Roc — the philanthropic arm of Jay-Z's Roc Nation empire — accused the state of an "utter disregard for the people it has incarcerated" and threatened to "pursue all potential avenues to obtain relief" should state leaders maintain the status quo.

"These inhumane conditions are unconstitutional," it said. "The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment and is violated when prison officials fail to protect against prison-related violence and when prison conditions fail to meet basic human needs."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 34622

Reported Deaths: 1215
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds282449
DeSoto186519
Madison141936
Jones118549
Harrison109615
Rankin106315
Neshoba103976
Forrest97243
Lauderdale95481
Scott80915
Jackson74418
Washington70010
Copiah64215
Leake62120
Lee60022
Oktibbeha58928
Holmes57941
Warren57720
Grenada5698
Wayne56018
Yazoo5486
Lowndes53613
Leflore52856
Lamar5227
Lincoln51935
Pike48820
Sunflower4708
Lafayette4644
Monroe43935
Panola4326
Covington4295
Bolivar39418
Simpson3843
Attala38324
Newton36710
Adams34719
Pontotoc3396
Tate33313
Marion32412
Claiborne30011
Winston29611
Chickasaw29319
Pearl River28132
Noxubee2778
Marshall2763
Jasper2716
Clay25611
Walthall2497
Union24611
Smith23712
Coahoma2196
Clarke21725
Lawrence2022
Yalobusha2028
Kemper18314
Tallahatchie1784
Carroll17411
Humphreys16110
Calhoun1605
Montgomery1513
Itawamba1458
Tippah14411
Hancock14113
Webster13411
Jefferson1223
Tunica1213
Jefferson Davis1184
Prentiss1173
George1123
Greene11210
Amite1083
Quitman971
Tishomingo971
Wilkinson969
Alcorn942
Perry794
Choctaw754
Stone732
Franklin542
Sharkey470
Benton440
Issaquena101
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 49892

Reported Deaths: 1077
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson6219167
Mobile4625138
Montgomery4397111
Tuscaloosa258652
Madison19839
Marshall190411
Shelby155724
Lee153537
Morgan12415
Baldwin117011
Walker105631
Elmore100721
Dallas9789
Franklin92816
Etowah91914
DeKalb8647
Russell6650
Chambers66427
Autauga66214
Butler64529
Tallapoosa62569
Unassigned61627
Limestone5963
Houston5616
Lauderdale5556
Cullman5546
St. Clair4842
Colbert4816
Lowndes48022
Escambia4688
Pike4675
Calhoun4565
Coffee4164
Covington40312
Jackson4022
Barbour3772
Bullock37610
Dale3721
Talladega3677
Hale34323
Marengo34211
Clarke3036
Wilcox2998
Chilton2952
Winston2925
Sumter28713
Blount2811
Marion26714
Pickens2626
Monroe2553
Randolph2489
Conecuh2278
Perry2242
Bibb2151
Macon2129
Choctaw20912
Greene1929
Henry1463
Washington1367
Crenshaw1263
Lawrence1210
Cherokee1157
Geneva950
Lamar871
Clay822
Fayette811
Coosa631
Cleburne421
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