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.

Cases: 333180

Reported Deaths: 7502
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22901279
Hinds22780438
Harrison19569326
Rankin14851287
Jackson14342251
Madison10692227
Lee10437179
Jones8746169
Forrest8210157
Lauderdale7561243
Lowndes6790150
Lamar669688
Lafayette6459124
Washington5516139
Pearl River4915149
Bolivar4909134
Oktibbeha478498
Panola4723112
Marshall4654106
Warren4640127
Pontotoc440473
Monroe4255137
Union425379
Neshoba4182180
Lincoln4098115
Hancock405088
Leflore3565125
Pike3530112
Tate349588
Alcorn343974
Sunflower343093
Adams333387
Scott331775
Yazoo331173
Simpson314890
Copiah313867
Itawamba310180
Coahoma308785
Tippah298868
Prentiss292963
Covington282483
Marion279580
Leake278475
Wayne270743
Grenada266388
George261651
Newton256664
Tishomingo236869
Winston235584
Jasper226148
Attala220873
Chickasaw216360
Stone210237
Holmes195674
Clay192254
Clarke182080
Tallahatchie181742
Calhoun177532
Smith175935
Yalobusha169440
Walthall141548
Lawrence137726
Greene135734
Amite132843
Noxubee131635
Perry131038
Montgomery130944
Carroll124531
Webster117532
Jefferson Davis113334
Tunica111127
Benton104625
Claiborne104331
Kemper100729
Humphreys99133
Franklin85923
Quitman83519
Choctaw81319
Wilkinson74632
Jefferson69728
Sharkey51518
Issaquena1696
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 569131

Reported Deaths: 11483
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson831881584
Mobile45534855
Madison36714532
Tuscaloosa26717465
Shelby26527255
Montgomery25707624
Baldwin23668325
Lee16753181
Calhoun15107332
Morgan14916289
Etowah14637368
Marshall12786235
Houston11462292
Elmore10636217
St. Clair10500251
Limestone10468158
Cullman10236204
Lauderdale9968253
DeKalb9278191
Talladega8721187
Walker7581286
Autauga7402113
Jackson7263117
Blount7182139
Colbert6577142
Coffee6024131
Dale5307117
Russell465542
Chilton4630117
Covington4555125
Franklin442081
Tallapoosa4372157
Escambia419182
Chambers3842125
Dallas3687163
Clarke364262
Marion3378106
Pike324279
Lawrence3188101
Winston290772
Bibb279565
Geneva270983
Marengo258367
Barbour243161
Pickens239162
Butler235672
Hale231678
Fayette224364
Henry204845
Randolph194244
Cherokee193848
Monroe191841
Washington176239
Macon167252
Crenshaw163958
Clay162159
Cleburne159045
Lamar149438
Lowndes144254
Wilcox129131
Bullock125642
Conecuh118030
Coosa115829
Perry109728
Sumter108032
Greene97336
Choctaw63825
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Columbus
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Isolated to scattered showers and thunderstorms will continue to be the rule for our Sunday and beginning of our work week. Otherwise, we will see high temperatures reaching well into the 90s for highs and heat index values between 100 to 115 during the afternoon hours.
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