News & Politics

How Many More Inmates Have to Die in Mississippi Before the State Acts?

(Image via Mississippi Department of Health)

The state of Mississippi Department of Corrections announced that two more inmates were beaten to death while another hanged himself following nearly a month of violence and chaos in the Mississippi prison system.

The two murders bring the total number of killings to 7 in the last month, with dozens more wounded in riots.

The conditions are appalling. North Korea has better prisons.

The state is spending $185 million less than they were 7 years ago. This has resulted in low salaries for guards, which has led to a massive turnover. Today, about half as many guards are employed by prisons as there were 3 years ago.

And the physical conditions are not to be believed.

Mother Jones:

With fewer funds, Mississippi prisons are practically crumbling in disrepair. At Parchman, holes riddle the walls and prison doors, ceilings are collapsing, and roaches and rats run throughout the facility, according to a recent investigation by ProPublica and the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, which reviewed Department of Health inspections. Many incarcerated people go about their days in the dark, since hundreds of cells now lack lights or power—a sharp decline in conditions compared with seven years ago, when all cells had electricity and lighting. Today, one building had just one shower for more than 50 prisoners, who described going weeks sometimes without a chance to wash, according to the investigation.

Most people treat their animals better.

The question of rehabilitation or punishment is not the issue here. The Mississippi prison system is in crisis because they have taken away the human dignity of inmates — dignity that separates us from the beasts. It’s simple; if you treat someone like an animal, they will respond like an animal. And when that happens, only the most vicious, the most ruthless animals end up on top.

With so few guards, prison gangs have taken control of some Mississippi prisons, as the Marshall Project found in a recent investigation. At Wilkinson County Correctional Facility, a privately run prison, an audit revealed that the warden cooperated with gang leaders in a bid to keep control of the facility. At Southern Mississippi Correctional Institution, Thompson wrote in the letter, gangs reportedly “assign people to cells and beds, overriding the formal MDOC assignments; control access to phones; photograph prisoners using contraband cell phones to create and maintain unofficial databases; determine when and where individuals may eat and shower, and enforce fines against those who break gang-written rules.” In a federal lawsuit about violence and poor conditions at East Mississippi Correctional Facility, also privately run, the correctional department’s court monitor declined to testify in open court for fear that gang members might retaliate, Thompson added.

It’s not a question of “deserving better.” But to find these conditions in prison in a 21st-century industrialized, civilized democracy is unconscionable and should shame anyone with a spark of humanity in them.