The Department of Justice has concluded that the Mississippi State Penitentiary has 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 the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division released on Wednesday said 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 the conditions at the penitentiary were “severe,” “systemic” and exacerbated by serious deficiencies in the facility’s staffing and supervision.
The Mississippi Department of Corrections, or MDOC, will have to address the failures cited by the DOJ. If standards are not met, the U.S. attorney general could file a lawsuit against the facility and the corrections department.
The Parchman facility has long had a history of poor conditions and mistreatment of inmates — and has faced a heap of lawsuits.
In 2020, 152 prisoners filed a federal lawsuit against the facility, saying they were denied medical care, forced to eat contaminated food, and retaliated against for speaking out about the prison’s conditions.
Another lawsuit 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 have generated a violent and unsafe environment for people incarcerated at Parchman,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke in a media release. “We are committed to taking action that will ensure the safety of all people held at Parchman and other state prison facilities. We look forward to working with state officials to institute comprehensive reforms.”
According to the DOJ’s findings, MDOC failed to protect prisoners from an “unreasonable risk of violence” due to inadequate staffing, cursory investigative practices and deficient contraband controls.
The systemic failures resulted in 10 homicides inside the prison facility since 2019 and allowed gang activity, drugs, weapons and extortion to thrive, the report said.
The report also cited a December 2019 fight that turned into a prison riot and lasted several weeks.
“In the months leading up to the riot, there had been widespread reports about unlivable and unsanitary conditions throughout Parchman,” the report said. Murders and suicides were on the rise leading up to the riot, and staffing was “plummeting” to dangerous levels.
In October 2020, several incarcerated people stabbed another individual to death inside a shower. A staff member was not notified until about three hours after the stabbing, when an incarcerated person contacted an officer who hadn’t seen what happened. The officer had been tasked with overseeing 180 people in that area of the facility from a tower.
When help finally arrived, the victim was unresponsive and was pronounced dead a few minutes later, the report states.
The Justice Department tallied more than 100 documented assaults at Parchman from 2018 to May 2020. Twenty-five percent of the deadly assaults were stabbings and were due to poor supervision. It is “likely” that there were more undocumented assaults, according to the report.
Additionally, the report said Parchman had failed to identify incarcerated individuals in need of mental health support and had “too few” qualified mental health staffers to meet the needs of people confined at the facility. Ultimately, this led to a failure to identify prisoners who were suicidal.
In the last three years, 12 people have committed suicide inside of the penitentiary, the report noted.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department has ongoing investigations at three other Mississippi detention facilities: the Southern Mississippi Correctional Institution, Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, and Wilkinson County Correctional Facility.