Analysis: Doctor calls Parchman conditions 'deplorable'

Living conditions in the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman are “are sub-human and deplorable in a civilized society,” according to a physician who has evaluated the prison on behalf of inmates who are suing the state.

Posted: Jun 21, 2020 8:24 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Living conditions in the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman are “are sub-human and deplorable in a civilized society,” according to a physician who has evaluated the prison on behalf of inmates who are suing the state.

Dr. Marc Stern specializes in correctional health care and has evaluated dozens of jails, prisons and immigration detention facilities in the United States.

Conditions at Parchman “are the worst conditions I have observed in any U.S. jail, prison or immigration detention facility in my 20 years working in this field," Stern wrote in papers that attorneys filed June 8 in federal court.

“To say that the Mississippi Department of Corrections warehouses human beings at Parchman would be insulting to proper warehouses,” wrote Stern, who is a professor at the University of Washington School of Public Health and was previously the lead physician for the Washington State Department of Corrections.

As of Friday, attorneys for the state of Mississippi had not yet responded to the plaintiffs' June 8 filing. But the state's new corrections commissioner, Burl Cain, told lawmakers Tuesday: “We’re going to fix Parchman."

The inmates' lawsuit was filed in January, after outbursts of violence in multiple Mississippi prisons left some inmates dead and others injured. Attorneys are being paid by entertainment mogul Jay-Z, rapper Yo Gotti and Team Roc, the philanthropic arm of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation.

The lawsuit was filed weeks before the U.S. Justice Department announced in February that it is investigating Mississippi's prison system. The civil suit and the federal investigation are separate from each other and are moving forward on parallel tracks.

The inmates' lawsuit is asking a federal judge to mandate that the state improve living conditions in Parchman, where state Health Department inspections have previously shown longstanding problems with clogged toilets, broken windows and moldy showers.

The lawsuit lists 33 inmates as plaintiffs, though it seeks improvements for all inmates in Parchman. In the June 8 filing, attorney Marcy B. Croft wrote that 24 of the 33 plaintiffs have been transferred out of Parchman since the suit was filed.

“Violence is a part of everyday life at Parchman,” Croft wrote.

The June 8 filing includes sworn statements by inmates who said that they saw guards ignore or encourage violence. One said that in December, a guard let a gang-affiliated inmate open another inmate's cell and stab that man. In a separate incident, another plaintiff said that multiple inmates stabbed him about 10 times, guards did nothing to stop the assault and he had to wait hours to receive medical care.

Stern wrote that he saw exposed electrical wiring inside Parchman, some of it near standing water.

“Extension cords are strung from the center tower on the first floor to the second floor where in two units, they are secured by wrapping around a railing banister, then lose their outer protective sheathes, and run, unprotected, across the hallway floor, into a resident’s cell,” Stern wrote. "The risk of a serious electricity-induced injury (burn or death) is a constant risk.”

The lawsuit also says the food at Parchman is often “inedible.”

“This does not mean the food is merely unpalatable, but rather it is contaminated with animal or insect feces or it is raw and therefore unsafe to eat,” Croft wrote.

The state Senate last week confirmed Republican Gov. Tate Reeves' nomination of Cain as the new corrections commissioner, to oversee Mississippi's entire state prison system. Cain was a longtime warden of Angola prison in Louisiana and told Mississippi lawmakers that he took the new job because it's a challenge.

During Cain's confirmation hearing, Senate Corrections Committee members asked some questions about Parchman but did not drill down for details about inmates' living conditions.

Cain said the prison system will focus on improving food and ensuring that inmates get job training, recreation and access to religious services.

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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