Mississippi prison comes under fire during federal trial

The state of Mississippi has "abandoned its responsibility to provide basic needs" to inmates at a privately run prison that is excessively violent and fails to provide proper medical care, an attorney for the prisoners said Monday.

Posted: Apr 9, 2018 2:35 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The state of Mississippi has "abandoned its responsibility to provide basic needs" to inmates at a privately run prison that is excessively violent and fails to provide proper medical care, an attorney for the prisoners said Monday.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Poverty Law Center sued the state over conditions at East Mississippi Correctional Facility, which is home to 1,200 inmates, the majority of whom have been diagnosed with a mental health problem.

The Mississippi Department of Corrections "receives report after report and does nothing. That is the definition of deliberate indifference," plaintiffs' attorney Erin Monju said in closing arguments.

Warden Frank Shaw testified during the five-week trial that the prison follows protocol and the facility is no worse than any other. Attorneys for the government defended the facility, including its use of solitary confinement.

"Coloring books and timeout isn't going to work for criminals," defense attorney William Siler said.

The prison is operated under a contract with the Utah-based Management and Training Corporation. Attorneys for the government said the groups suing Mississippi had an agenda and wanted to litigate private prisons out of business.

"We need to get out of their (MTC's) way and let them run their prison," Siler said.

Privately run prisons can be a political hot potato. Lawmakers often tout their lowered costs and better performance than state-run facilities but opponents point to understaffing, health care cuts and a lack of transparency.

One of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' first orders in the Trump administration was to reverse an Obama-era directive phasing out the use of private prisons. It was perhaps an acknowledgement that the private prisons may be needed given the administration's aggressive enforcement of drug and immigration laws.

Several inmates testified during the trial about the conditions inside the prison. They described being jumped or shanked, sometimes in their own cells, with little help from prison guards. Such inmate violence, the warden said, was common.

"It's the nature of prisons," Shaw said. "It's the nature of the beast."

Siler said during closing arguments that the facility sees approximately 13 assaults per month - a number that he said, "just doesn't seem to be that big of a number to me. It doesn't seem excessive."

But the inmates' attorneys argued that the number of assaults at the prison is high and the result of inadequate supervision due to the prison's short-staffing. And they say guards abandon their posts and do not perform their minimum job functions.

"The facility claims to be an indirect supervision prison," Southern Poverty Law Center attorney Elissa Johnson said. "But because of staff's failure to remain on their posts, it virtually results in a no-supervision prison."

Inmates said they had seen cockroaches and mouse droppings throughout the facility, particularly in the kitchen, and had to deal with sewage backing up into cells and bathrooms.

The warden blamed the plumbing problems on inmates.

"In most cases when we have those issues," Shaw said, "it's inmate related. They've either flushed something down they shouldn't have or torn something up."

U.S. District Judge William Barbour Jr. said he planned to take "several days" to issue a written ruling.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 314710

Reported Deaths: 7254
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21646260
Hinds20369416
Harrison17949309
Rankin13643278
Jackson13450246
Madison10113217
Lee9986174
Jones8384163
Forrest7689152
Lauderdale7198240
Lowndes6403148
Lamar623686
Lafayette6203119
Washington5341134
Bolivar4802132
Oktibbeha462998
Panola4596107
Pearl River4519146
Marshall4450103
Warren4393121
Pontotoc420872
Monroe4115133
Union411176
Neshoba4031176
Lincoln3969110
Hancock379586
Leflore3498125
Sunflower336290
Tate334784
Pike3327105
Scott316274
Alcorn313368
Yazoo311770
Itawamba300577
Copiah297465
Coahoma295579
Simpson295388
Tippah288768
Adams286982
Prentiss280060
Marion269380
Leake268473
Wayne262841
Grenada261587
Covington259881
George248148
Newton246862
Winston227581
Tishomingo227067
Jasper221148
Attala214473
Chickasaw208057
Holmes189174
Clay185554
Stone182833
Tallahatchie178941
Clarke178080
Calhoun170932
Yalobusha164638
Smith162534
Walthall134245
Greene130633
Lawrence128724
Montgomery127142
Noxubee126734
Perry126338
Amite123142
Carroll121829
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis107133
Tunica105726
Claiborne102430
Benton100025
Humphreys96733
Kemper95828
Franklin83923
Quitman81116
Choctaw76418
Wilkinson67531
Jefferson65728
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 539829

Reported Deaths: 11038
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson798271529
Mobile41261809
Madison35132506
Tuscaloosa25915455
Shelby25294249
Montgomery24705593
Baldwin21392310
Lee15987172
Calhoun14569319
Morgan14422280
Etowah13918353
Marshall12275225
Houston10641282
Elmore10147206
Limestone10065151
St. Clair9946245
Cullman9761194
Lauderdale9457243
DeKalb8865188
Talladega8339176
Walker7260278
Autauga7001108
Jackson6836112
Blount6771139
Colbert6320135
Coffee5578118
Dale4876113
Russell445138
Chilton4369113
Franklin426282
Covington4138118
Tallapoosa4044153
Escambia394777
Chambers3590123
Dallas3568153
Clarke351461
Marion3137101
Pike311977
Lawrence302698
Winston275773
Bibb264564
Geneva254078
Marengo249665
Pickens234862
Barbour232056
Hale223978
Butler219069
Fayette212662
Henry189643
Cherokee184645
Randolph182442
Monroe178141
Washington167739
Macon161150
Clay157157
Crenshaw153557
Cleburne149641
Lamar143236
Lowndes140553
Wilcox127430
Bullock123242
Conecuh110829
Coosa109228
Perry107826
Sumter104932
Greene92634
Choctaw61024
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