Analysis: Mississippi prison virus protocols under scrutiny

Attorneys are feuding in federal court filings over coronavirus testing and safety protocols at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

Posted: Aug 23, 2020 5:41 PM

ACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Attorneys are feuding in federal court filings over coronavirus testing and safety protocols at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

Entertainment mogul Jay-Z and rapper Yo Gotti are funding a lawsuit filed early this year to challenge health and safety conditions in Parchman. Separately, the U.S. Justice Department said in February that it's investigating Mississippi's prison system — an announcement that came weeks after violence in late December and early January left some inmates dead and more injured.

Madeleine LaMarre, a nurse and prison health care consultant who is helping plaintiffs in the Parchman lawsuit, said in court papers Aug. 11 that she and a physician inspected the prison in February to determine whether inmates “were harmed by lack of timely access to medical care and the conditions of confinement.”

“I found, among other serious problems with access to care, that the conditions of confinement were the worst I had ever witnessed, including lack of adequate sanitation and disinfection that would promote the transmission of COVID-19 to inmates and staff,” LaMarre wrote.

Mississippi's first known coronavirus cases, outside prison walls, were detected in mid-March. A Parchman employee tested positive March 26 and exposed kitchen workers to the virus, LaMarre wrote. An inmate in the prison's hospital tested positive for the virus April 8, his condition worsened April 10 and he died April 11, she wrote.

On April 15, the state Department of Corrections and the private company providing prisons' health services announced plans to try to slow the spread of COVID-19. Those included stricter sanitation measures and requiring inmates whose beds are near each other to sleep head-to-feet rather than face-to-face.

LaMarre wrote in the Aug. 11 filing that the measures were not consistently followed. She wrote that a man housed in one unit at Parchman said a nurse checked inmates' temperatures twice a day but did not screen them for symptoms.

“Several inmates’ bunks were within 6 feet of his bunk and MDOC staff made no attempt to provide more physical space between bunks or to have inmates sleep head to foot, as planned,” LaMarre wrote. “Staff does not enforce social distancing of inmates. Inmates eat their meals together in the housing unit without social distancing.”

The state filed a response Aug. 17, which included a statement from Dr. James Glisson, the medical director at Parchman. Glisson wrote that Unit 31 at Parchman is reserved for inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19.

“There is a doctor present in Unit 31 at least three days a week,” Glisson wrote. “He makes regular rounds within the unit and speaks with each patient who has tested positive for COVID-19. He addresses the immediate needs of patients and confers with me regarding their treatment as well as needs for re-testing and movement of COVID-19 positive inmates.”

Glisson also wrote that a nurse works in Unit 31 about 10 hours a day, seven days a week.

In response to questions from The Associated Press on Friday, Department of Corrections spokeswoman Grace Simmons Fisher said COVID-19 testing in the state's prisons is based on symptoms and as a result of contact tracing.

“Inmates who have possibly been exposed to other inmates with COVID-19 symptoms in the same housing unit are being tested as a precaution, especially if they have underlying conditions that may put them at a higher risk of complications from the virus,” Fisher said.

The Department of Corrections said that as of Friday, 510 Mississippi inmates had tested positive for COVID-19, and 112 of those cases were still active. Fisher told the AP that she was unable to say how many of the inactive cases were from inmates who had died.

Glisson works for Centurion, a private company that provides medical services at Parchman. In a July 7 letter to the Department of Corrections, Centurion CEO Steven H. Wheeler gave 90 days' notice the company will end its state contract as of Oct. 5.

Wheeler wrote that Centurion had improved medical services at Parchman, but “we do not believe we can further improve the effectiveness of our level of care without additional investment from the Department in correctional staffing and infrastructure.”

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 245847

Reported Deaths: 5356
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto16717168
Hinds15748310
Harrison12806188
Rankin10334204
Jackson9996172
Lee8666135
Madison7994158
Jones6112108
Forrest5826117
Lauderdale5672174
Lowndes5186106
Lafayette482792
Lamar471162
Washington4700122
Bolivar3915105
Oktibbeha384279
Panola357274
Pontotoc356552
Monroe3463101
Union334755
Warren334692
Marshall333264
Neshoba3310149
Pearl River313891
Leflore2969104
Lincoln290185
Sunflower275868
Tate264759
Alcorn257850
Itawamba257058
Pike254876
Hancock246957
Prentiss240047
Scott238743
Copiah235649
Yazoo235054
Tippah233845
Simpson230166
Leake226764
Coahoma219054
Grenada213970
Covington207171
Marion203371
Adams200065
Winston196260
George195937
Wayne193029
Attala190958
Newton185142
Chickasaw179943
Tishomingo179059
Holmes167467
Jasper163533
Clay155632
Stone138818
Tallahatchie137033
Clarke135160
Calhoun132021
Smith117322
Yalobusha112534
Walthall110536
Noxubee108922
Greene108229
Montgomery107134
Carroll102320
Lawrence99817
Perry98631
Amite95725
Webster90024
Claiborne84125
Tunica84021
Jefferson Davis82925
Humphreys80324
Benton79722
Kemper75620
Quitman6678
Franklin64613
Choctaw59412
Wilkinson57424
Jefferson52019
Sharkey42317
Issaquena1576
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 414583

Reported Deaths: 5945
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson60842887
Mobile29590538
Madison26466183
Tuscaloosa20537267
Montgomery18562304
Shelby18181112
Baldwin15841177
Lee1212097
Morgan12002112
Etowah11488142
Calhoun10863197
Marshall10048106
Houston8405123
Cullman792294
Limestone785073
Elmore7670101
DeKalb757282
St. Clair7417120
Lauderdale740282
Talladega6036108
Walker5834176
Jackson571937
Colbert522270
Blount521980
Autauga507555
Coffee431456
Dale388278
Franklin362145
Chilton332965
Covington325567
Russell318910
Escambia309842
Dallas297988
Chambers275769
Clarke272933
Tallapoosa2591107
Pike245829
Lawrence239345
Marion238649
Winston222535
Bibb211347
Geneva196331
Marengo196329
Pickens195331
Hale172542
Barbour169636
Butler166958
Fayette164026
Cherokee158330
Henry149219
Monroe143617
Randolph137635
Washington135426
Clay124446
Crenshaw117444
Lamar116819
Cleburne115123
Macon111935
Lowndes107935
Wilcox99921
Bullock97128
Perry95019
Conecuh92820
Sumter89126
Greene75123
Coosa59814
Choctaw50824
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