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Justice Department says violence,...

Justice Department says violence, housing conditions in 3 Mississippi prisons violate inmates’ constitutional rights

By: Frank Corder - February 28, 2024

Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (Photo from MDOC)

  • A 60-page report from the DOJ details findings from an investigation into the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, South Mississippi Correctional Institution, and Wilkinson County Correctional Facility.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced its findings that conditions of confinement at three Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) facilities violate the 8th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

A 60-page report from the DOJ details findings from an investigation began in February 2020 under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) into the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, South Mississippi Correctional Institution, and Wilkinson County Correctional Facility, which combined houses about 7,200 inmates.

The Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section and the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the Northern and Southern Districts of Mississippi conducted the investigation.

The DOJ report says MDOC “routinely violates the constitutional rights of people incarcerated at all three facilities by failing to protect them from widespread physical violence.”

“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,” the report outlines. “These problems are exacerbated by chronic understaffing that has allowed gangs to exert improper influence inside the prisons.”

In addition, DOJ says Mississippi unconstitutionally subjects persons at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility and Wilkinson County Correctional Facility to prolonged restrictive housing under harsh conditions that places them at substantial risk of serious physical and psychological harm.

Todd Gee, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, said in a statement that the conclusion of the investigation and the issuance of findings is only the start of the work necessary to ensure that the state of Mississippi and the Mississippi Department of Corrections fulfill their constitutional obligations to the people it incarcerates.

“The minimum remedial measures outlined in this report create the framework for what the state must do to reasonably protect people in these facilities from violence and prevent deprivation of fundamental physical and psychological needs,” Gee said. “While this report makes clear that there is much work for the state to do, we are committed to working with state officials to ensure that Mississippi abides by its constitutional obligations.”

A response for a request for comment from the Mississippi Department of Corrections was not immediately returned.

Wednesday’s report from DOJ follows the Department’s April 2022 report that found conditions at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman violated the constitutional rights of persons incarcerated there by subjecting them to violence, failing to provide adequate care for serious mental health needs, or adequate suicide prevention measures and using prolonged restrictive housing in a manner that poses a risk of serious harm.

Senate Corrections Chairman Juan Barnett (D) has introduced a plan this session to close Parchman. His plan would move a majority of the inmates to the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility at Tutwiler while leaving those on death row and the medically frail, including inmates with mental health illnesses and those housed in the nursing home, at the 120-plus year old state penitentiary.

Barnett’s proposal to shutter Parchman also aims to use the cost savings from the move to increase corrections officer pay and address the current shortfall in personnel.  

About the Author(s)
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Frank Corder

Frank Corder is a native of Pascagoula. For nearly two decades, he has reported and offered analysis on government, public policy, business and matters of faith. Frank’s interviews, articles, and columns have been shared throughout Mississippi as well as in national publications. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, providing insight and commentary on the inner workings of the Magnolia State. Frank has served his community in both elected and appointed public office, hosted his own local radio and television programs, and managed private businesses all while being an engaged husband and father. Email Frank: