DOJ finds Mississippi Penitentiary violated constitution with violent and dangerous conditions

The Justice Department found the Mississippi State Penitentiary engaged in unconstitutional practices that violate the Eighth and 14th Amendments after a two-year investigation into the facility, also known as Parchman.

A report from the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division released Wednesday says the prison failed to help people at risk of self-harm and subjected them to prolonged solitary confinement in violation of their civil rights.

The 59-page report said conditions at the penitentiary were “severe”, “systemic” and exacerbated by serious shortcomings in staffing and supervision of the facility.

The Mississippi Department of Corrections, or MDOC, will have to remedy the deficiencies cited by the DOJ. If the standards are not met, the United States Attorney General could take legal action against the facility and the correctional service.

The Parchman facility has long had a history of poor conditions and mistreatment of inmates — and faced a slew of lawsuits.

In 2020, 152 detainees submitted a federal trial against the facility, claiming they were denied medical treatment, forced to eat tainted food, and retaliated for speaking out about prison conditions.

Another lawsuit filed by a disability rights group alleged that prisoners with disabilities faced inhumane conditions at Parchman and other state prisons.

As of April 17, Parchman had 1,984 prisoners.

“Our investigation uncovered evidence of systemic violations that generated a violent and dangerous environment for those incarcerated at Parchman,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in a press release. “We are committed to taking measures that will ensure the safety of all individuals held at Parchman and other state correctional facilities. We look forward to working with state officials to institute comprehensive reforms. »

According to the DOJ’s findings, the MDOC failed to protect prisoners from “unreasonable risk of violence” due to inadequate staffing, superficial investigative practices and deficient contraband controls.

Systemic failures have resulted in 10 homicides inside the prison facility since 2019 and allowed gang activity, drugs, guns and extortion to thrive, the report said.

The report also cites a December 2019 brawl that escalated into a riot in a prison and lasted several weeks.

“In the months leading up to the riot, there were numerous reports of unlivable and unsanitary conditions throughout Parchman,” the report said. Murders and suicides were on the rise before the riot, and numbers were “falling” to dangerous levels.

In October 2020, several inmates stabbed another individual to death in a shower. A member of staff was not notified until around three hours after the stabbing, when an incarcerated person contacted an officer who had not seen what had happened. The officer had been tasked with supervising 180 people in that area of ​​the facility from a tower.

When help finally arrived, the victim was unresponsive and was pronounced dead minutes later, the report said.

The Justice Department has documented more than 100 assaults at Parchman from 2018 to May 2020. Twenty-five percent of fatal assaults were stabbings and were due to poor supervision. It is “likely” that there have been more undocumented attacks, according to the report.

Additionally, the report says Parchman has failed to identify incarcerated people in need of mental health support and has ‘too few’ trained mental health staff to meet the needs of confined people. in the building. Ultimately, this led to an inability to identify suicidal prisoners.

In the past three years, 12 people have committed suicide inside the penitentiary, the report notes.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department is conducting ongoing investigations at three other Mississippi detention facilities: Southern Mississippi Correctional Facility, Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, and Wilkinson County Correctional Facility.

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