Three more Mississippi prisons violate the Constitution, U.S. Justice Department finds

The state of Mississippi and its corrections department “routinely violates the constitutional rights of people incarcerated … by failing to protect them from widespread physical violence,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

On Feb. 28, the Justice Department announced findings that conditions at three state-run prisons violate the 8th and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

“The state does not adequately supervise the incarcerated population, control the flow of contraband, adequately investigate incidents of serious harm, or provide adequate living conditions. These problems are exacerbated by chronic understaffing that has allowed gangs to exert improper influence inside the prisons,” the Justice Department said in releasing a 60-page report detailing the findings.

These conditions affect approximately 7,200 people housed at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (in Pearl, just outside of the capital of Jackson), South Mississippi Correctional Institution and Wilkinson County Correctional Facility

The report notes that “basic safety failures and the poor living conditions inside the facilities promote violence, including sexual assault” and that “gangs operate in the void left by staff and use violence to control people and traffic contraband.”

Further, the state houses people at Central Mississippi and Wilkinson “in restrictive housing for prolonged periods in appalling conditions (that are) unsanitary, hazardous and chaotic, with little supervision. They are breeding grounds for suicide, self-inflicted injury, fires and assaults,” authors of the report write.

Mississippi corrections officials did not immediately respond to Reckon’s request for a comment on the announcement.

The poor conditions inside Mississippi prisons have persisted for years, resulting in numerous lawsuits and settlements.

The federal government determined in April that Mississippi State Penitentiary, also known as Parchman, also violated the constitutional rights of people incarcerated there.

In 2018, a rash of deaths in Mississippi prisons made national headlines. Under a new governor and corrections commissioner, the problems continued. Mississippi Today also reported in November 2023 that infrastructure continued crumbling, staffing remained challenging and gangs still ran Mississippi correctional facilities.

(Reckon’s editor-in-chief, Ryan L. Nave, previously served as editor and a reporter at Mississippi Today).

Mississippi State Penitentiary was also the subject of the 2023 documentary “Exposing Parchman.”

The Justice Department said now that the agency’s investigations are complete, DOJ officials will work with Mississippi to implement change.

At least one bill under consideration in the Mississippi Legislature seeks to shutter most of Parchman. State Sen. Juan Barnett, who also oversees the Senate Corrections Committee, would phase out operations at Parchman.

In speaking to Mississippi television station WLBT, Barnett said of his bill: “Would you continue to spend money on something that you can’t fix?’”


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