JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – More than two dozen Mississippi inmates sued the state on Tuesday, saying understaffed prisons are “plagued by violence” and inmates are forced to live in decrepit and dangerous conditions
The federal lawsuit follows an outbreak of violence in which five inmates were killed and an undisclosed number of others injured, between December 29 and January 3.
The suit was filed on the same day that Mississippi inaugurated a new Republican governor, Tate Reeves, who played a prominent role in writing state budgets during the past eight years as lieutenant governor.
Also on Tuesday, federal authorities in Mississippi said they were aware of problems in the prisons, and that people should report possible civil rights violations or criminal activity. They did not say how extensive a federal investigation might be.
All the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are inmates at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, where three of the five deaths occurred.
The lawsuit says conditions violate inmates’ constitutional rights to receive equal treatment under the law and not to face cruel and unusual punishment. It says the recent deaths “are a direct result of Mississippi’s utter disregard for the people it has incarcerated.”
Some of the plaintiffs’ attorneys are with a New York-based law firm whose clients include Jay-Z.
Last week, those attorneys sent a letter on behalf of Jay-Z to then-Governor Phil Bryant and Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Pelicia Hall
The attorneys said they intended to sue the state over inmates being “forced to live in squalor.”
Hall announced December 31 that she would leave her job at the Department of Corrections in mid-January, coinciding with the transition to a new governor. Reeves has not yet chosen a replacement for her.
In seeking information about prisons, the special agent in charge of the Jackson division of the FBI and the state’s two U.S. attorneys said on Tuesday that people could report potential federal criminal violations to the FBI or potential civil rights violations to the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department.
“Allegations of the violation and deprivation of civil rights, as well as criminal activity, continue to be taken very seriously by our offices,” said a joint statement by the FBI’s Michelle A. Sutphin and U.S. Attorneys William C. Lamar of the state’s northern district and Mike Hurst of the southern district.
Because of damage caused during the unrest, hundreds of prisoners were moved from one unit at Parchman to another unit there that was closed years ago because of decrepit conditions. The state then entered an emergency contract to move 375 of those inmates to a private prison nearby.
Hall said in a news release on Monday that even after moving the 375 inmates, the state would have to find housing for 625 other maximum-security inmates who had been housed at Parchman’s Unit 29, which was damaged in the violence.
State corrections officials are seeking an additional $67 million (R963 million) for the budget year that begins on July 1 at the three state-run prisons. That would allow them to hire 800 more guards, raise the guards’ starting salaries from the current $25,650 (R369 000) to $30,370 (R436 000), and increase the pay of current employees.
Officials are also requesting $22.3 million (R320 million) to renovate Unit 29.
Bryant sought some increased prison funding, but not as much as $67 million. Top legislators are recommending that Mississippi spend even less next year than this year.
Author: ANA Entertainment