Despite Mississippi ranking among the states with the highest incarceration rates, correctional officers in Mississippi are the lowest-paid in their profession nationwide, according to government data, with a mean hourly wage of $14.83.
The poor welfare package and work conditions means there are guard shortages further worsening the ratio of inmates to officers for effective surveillance.
When videos and photos of Mississippi prison conditions got leaked, it showed flooding, uncovered wires and mold.
Following the escape of two inmates and death of five people across three Mississippi facilities last week, the correctional system was put on statewide lockdown. An inmate is missing from the notorious Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman while the state’s prisons are on lockdown as authorities try to identify what sparked the violence at three facilities.
The recent spate of violence began when Terrandance Dobbins, 40, was killed at the South Mississippi Correctional Institution on Dec. 29 from injuries he received from what is believed to be a gang-related hit on his life. Officials described the incident as a “major disturbance,” according to the Clarion Ledger.
Mississippi Department of Corrections needs a immediate reform. If you haven’t been paying attention. Inmates are dying day by day while Mississippi prisons are on lockdown living in poor conditions. Keep them in your prayers especially if you know someone incarcerated.— D.Smitty??? (@6I_JOE) January 5, 2020
“At that prison, there are about 23 inmates for every correctional officer, more than double the nationwide average. A ProPublica investigation/Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting report last year found that gangs have flourished amid staffing shortages and lack of protection for inmates, and attorneys representing incarcerated individuals told the news outlets they’ve begged to have their clients transferred out.”
“Then, two men — Walter Gates and Roosevelt Holliman — were stabbed Tuesday and Thursday, respectively, in what the Ledger described as a “gang-related riot” at the notoriously racist and violent Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman. Parchman, the state’s oldest prison, is capable of holding 3,560 inmates.
“Also on Thursday, Gregory Emary was killed at the Chickasaw County Regional Correctional Facility, although officials didn’t explain to local media how he died. And on Friday, Denorris Howell died after fighting with his cellmate at the Parchman facility. State officials said that death was unrelated to the “major disturbances.””
As if the deaths at the prisons weren’t enough, during an emergency count of all inmates at Parchman early Saturday morning, officials noticed David May and Dillion Wiliams were missing. Police found May early Sunday, but Williams, who was in prison for residential burglary and assault charges, still remains at large.
The state has its work cut out for it in addressing the root cause affecting conditions at three state prisons, 15 regional facilities, and three private prisons.
The Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) acknowledged “Major disturbances” that started Dec. 29 were partly provoked by gangs.
The death toll at Parchman continues to rise. How long must we wait for Mississippi lawmakers to address this crisis?— FAMM Foundation (@FAMMFoundation) January 3, 2020
CALL NOW: 888-887-9480 https://t.co/ZZkt77useM
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center brought a lawsuit in 2013 alleging that prisoners lived in “barbaric” conditions, where illnesses went untreated, rats climbed over beds and guards used excessive force, among other issues.
“Unfortunately, this is another chapter in what is a history of mismanagement and neglect that have infected the Mississippi prison system for decades,” said Eric Balaban, senior staff counsel at the ACLU’s National Prison Project.
While authorities declined to name the gangs involved in the riots and deaths, the Associated Press reported that the ongoing confrontation was between the Vice Lords and the Black Gangster Disciples.
Several lawsuits have alleged that conditions at Parchman are inhumane. Prisoners told PBS NewsHour that the roofs leak, windows are broken and inmates can easily access contraband, including drugs. Grace Fisher, communications director for the Mississippi Department of Corrections, disputed that characterization to PBS.
Nonetheless newsmaven.io reports that numerous inmates have taken to Facebook with cries of help, saying they are no longer safe within the prison system because of correctional officers with ties to Gangster Disciples and People’s Nation gang.
Inmates also blame understaffing, poor prison conditions including food quality, rodent infestations, drugs, and sewage backups as partly to blame for the violence.
Inmates claim a prison guard as well as another from Wilkinson County Correctional Facility were arrested for allowing inmates to access other inmates’ cells to kill them.
Much to the chagrin of prison authorities, inmates have reached out on social media with claims that the riots were started by prison guards who themselves are in gangs.
In an interview with Photography is Not a Crime, Carol Leonard of Prison Reform Movement said inmates have told her that guards are “popping locks” and giving inmates keys to cells. But calls to the prison seeking confirmation were never answered.
The starting pay for a correctional officer is $25,000 annually, according to Mississippi Department of Corrections website which makes it relatively easy for the guards to be influenced by inmates with gang affiliation and funds to hold sway over them.
A rally is being set up on January 24 at 3pm on South Steps of the State Capitol Building in Jackson to demand reforms at the prisons in addition to pressing home the need to decongest.
Prison reform activists have started a petition demanding Parchman to be closed which has received over 7,100 signatures.
In 2019, the Marshall Project released a report showing that at one point gangs were put in charge at Wilkinson Correctional Facility.