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DOJ: Three Mississippi prisons fail to protect inmates from gangs, provide adequate livable conditions

Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (photo courtesy of MDOC)

Three major prisons in Mississippi are violating the constitutional rights of inmates by subjugating them to inadequate living conditions and allowing gangs to take control of the facilities, a scathing report from the U.S. Department of Justice alleges.

Federal officials on Wednesday announced their findings that conditions of confinement at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, South Mississippi Correctional Institution, and Wilkinson County Correctional Facility, which house a collective 7,200 inmates, violate the 8th and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

The report finds that the three prisons, under the supervision of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC), fail to protect inmates from widespread violence in the respective facilities. MDOC is also accused of not having adequate institutional control of the prisons.

Internal prison staff at the three facilities is reported to have failed to supervise the incarcerated population and control the flow of contraband. The prisons are accused of conducting insufficient investigations into incidents of serious harm or providing adequate living conditions.

The issues mentioned are said to be further exacerbated by chronic understaffing which has subsequently allowed gangs to exert improper influence inside the prisons, despite MDOC Commissioner Burl Cain stating that the gang population is on a sharp decline in state prisons.

In addition, the report concludes that Mississippi continues to unconstitutionally subject inmates at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility and the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility to prolonged restrictive housing under harsh conditions that place them at substantial risk of serious physical and psychological harm.

“Every state is constitutionally obligated to protect the people it incarcerates from known, pervasive, and deliberately unchecked violence, and to house people in conditions that do not pose a serious risk of physical and psychological harm,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division said.

“Our investigation uncovered chronic, systemic deficiencies that create and perpetuate violent and unsafe environments for people incarcerated at these three Mississippi facilities. The unconstitutional conditions in Mississippi’s prisons have existed for far too long, and we hope that this announcement marks a turning point toward implementing sound, evidence-based solutions to these entrenched problems. The Justice Department stands ready to enforce the dictates of the Constitution that protect the safety and human dignity of all people housed at state prison facilities. Our work makes clear that people do not abandon their civil and constitutional rights at the jailhouse door.”

RELATED: Legislation introduced to shut down Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman

Wednesday’s announcement follows the DOJ’s April 2022 report that found conditions at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman violated the constitutional rights of persons incarcerated 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.

“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,” U.S. Attorney Todd W. Gee for the Southern District of Mississippi said. “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. 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.”

The DOJ launched its investigation of the MDOC facilities in February 2020, under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA). As required by CRIPA, the department provided Mississippi with written notice of the supporting facts for its conclusions and the minimum remedial measures necessary to address the alleged violations.

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.

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