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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.

Confirmed Cases: 95310

Reported Deaths: 2874
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7063159
DeSoto552159
Harrison382973
Jackson345670
Madison326586
Rankin325677
Lee268368
Jones246879
Forrest245571
Washington221972
Lafayette215439
Lauderdale2044125
Bolivar182366
Oktibbeha177350
Lamar167534
Neshoba1559104
Lowndes152658
Panola146328
Sunflower144546
Warren140250
Leflore139581
Pontotoc125916
Pike123050
Monroe122168
Scott117327
Copiah117133
Coahoma115028
Holmes109558
Marshall109217
Lincoln108353
Grenada107736
Yazoo105530
Simpson102544
Union99324
Tate97637
Leake95338
Adams93037
Wayne89421
Pearl River87353
Marion85735
Prentiss84417
Covington81922
Itawamba79421
Alcorn79111
Newton76723
George76513
Tallahatchie76321
Winston73719
Tishomingo67238
Chickasaw67024
Tippah66517
Attala65425
Walthall59825
Clay58918
Clarke58145
Hancock57721
Jasper56815
Noxubee54816
Smith53114
Calhoun51312
Tunica48313
Claiborne46216
Montgomery45920
Lawrence43112
Yalobusha42814
Perry41918
Humphreys37615
Quitman3725
Stone37012
Greene36617
Jefferson Davis33911
Webster33613
Amite32510
Carroll31512
Wilkinson30318
Kemper28815
Sharkey26513
Jefferson2449
Benton2252
Franklin1923
Choctaw1816
Issaquena1043
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 133433

Reported Deaths: 2349
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson19441349
Mobile13271291
Montgomery8778179
Madison775480
Tuscaloosa7496119
Shelby584951
Lee582961
Baldwin516550
Marshall390944
Calhoun346641
Etowah342047
Morgan325428
Houston278123
Elmore263247
DeKalb239120
Walker228483
St. Clair227837
Talladega212728
Limestone206120
Cullman188519
Dallas177426
Franklin175529
Russell17442
Autauga173825
Lauderdale168233
Colbert163626
Blount159415
Escambia158425
Jackson154611
Chilton153531
Dale135444
Covington134427
Coffee13078
Pike11879
Chambers115142
Tallapoosa114685
Clarke107717
Marion95729
Butler91339
Barbour8577
Winston73712
Marengo70820
Lowndes65327
Pickens65114
Bibb64210
Randolph63713
Hale62828
Lawrence60922
Geneva5995
Bullock59814
Cherokee59115
Monroe5818
Clay5707
Washington55613
Perry5407
Conecuh53111
Crenshaw53132
Wilcox53111
Henry4865
Macon48020
Fayette4438
Sumter43419
Lamar3632
Choctaw34612
Cleburne3396
Greene30315
Coosa1673
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