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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: 59881

Reported Deaths: 1693
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds5176106
DeSoto321527
Madison227253
Rankin211128
Harrison206732
Jackson187434
Jones174057
Forrest161551
Washington145732
Lauderdale132188
Lee119430
Neshoba119087
Lamar110512
Oktibbeha104434
Warren96425
Lowndes95830
Scott95117
Bolivar93332
Copiah90323
Sunflower90322
Panola89611
Lafayette8619
Holmes83546
Leflore82759
Pike81932
Grenada80520
Yazoo76411
Leake76225
Lincoln73539
Wayne73121
Pontotoc7167
Simpson70726
Monroe68750
Coahoma64810
Tate63822
Marion59418
Adams57825
Covington57611
Winston56615
Marshall5568
George5395
Newton51411
Union51313
Attala49524
Pearl River48036
Tallahatchie44610
Walthall43918
Chickasaw42719
Noxubee41410
Claiborne39913
Smith37413
Calhoun3738
Jasper3738
Clay36414
Alcorn3494
Prentiss3316
Hancock32414
Yalobusha31210
Lawrence3075
Itawamba30610
Tishomingo3063
Clarke29725
Tippah29412
Montgomery2913
Humphreys26511
Tunica2526
Carroll24511
Greene22611
Kemper22315
Quitman2201
Perry2137
Amite2045
Jefferson Davis1966
Webster19512
Jefferson1916
Wilkinson18312
Sharkey1801
Stone1463
Choctaw1254
Benton1240
Franklin1112
Issaquena211
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 85278

Reported Deaths: 1531
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson11465225
Mobile8466188
Montgomery6093141
Madison481725
Tuscaloosa385161
Baldwin309521
Shelby295431
Marshall287830
Unassigned256950
Lee245540
Morgan215614
Etowah188424
DeKalb165011
Elmore156237
Walker145063
Calhoun14389
Houston127512
Dallas126523
Russell11851
St. Clair116911
Franklin116520
Limestone115512
Cullman109011
Colbert105011
Lauderdale102812
Autauga98820
Escambia95215
Talladega86213
Chambers80738
Tallapoosa80178
Jackson7833
Dale76318
Butler74335
Blount7043
Coffee6955
Covington68420
Chilton6735
Pike6447
Barbour5545
Lowndes54524
Marion52824
Marengo50614
Clarke4799
Hale44825
Bullock43611
Winston42610
Perry4193
Wilcox4009
Randolph38610
Monroe3853
Conecuh36310
Sumter36118
Bibb3602
Pickens3599
Macon30412
Washington30411
Lawrence2980
Crenshaw2793
Choctaw27112
Greene23911
Henry2383
Cherokee2227
Geneva2160
Clay2005
Lamar1912
Fayette1675
Cleburne1121
Coosa892
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