Mississippi Governor Says Prison Unit Where Nine Prisoners Have Died Will Be Shut Down
A step in the right direction.
The newly sworn-in governor of Mississippi has made his first priority shutting down a prison unit where at least nine prisoners have died.
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The Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman houses 3,600 inmates out of 19,000 offenders in the state. In the past month, nine have died by suicide or due to altercations that occurred within the correctional facility, reports CNN. A total of 12 offenders have died throughout several Mississippi prisons.
"The problems were infuriating, there is no excuse. We can do better,” Gov. Tate Reeves stated during his state of the state speech.
On Sunday, 26-year-old inmate Joshua Norman, who was housed in a one-man cell, was found hanging in the prison's Unit 29. Two other prisoners have been found hanging in "the most notorious unit" as it's been dubbed.
"All Mississippians must be able to trust that the people in charge of the system are acting with competence to keep them safe. We must be able to trust that the corrections officers operating these prisons have the tools that they need to do their jobs and that they are compensated fairly," said Reeves.
Rayford Horton, the state Department of Health environmental administrator, released a detailed report in June highlighting the unit's deteriorating conditions which included milk and food without expiration dates, a fly trap littered with flies, a leaking ceiling located right above a dishwasher and food kept in a moldy cooler.
Former Commissioner Pelicia E. Hall petitioned for $22.5 million in the 2021 fiscal year to repair Unit 29.
The unit had "become unsafe for staff and inmates due to age and general deterioration," Hall explained in an August budget letter.
Hall also asked for $35.6 million to fill 800 vacant positions at three state prisons. She mentioned that the salaries of Mississippi correctional officers are the lowest in the United States.
"Since early March 2015, I have been focused on progressively moving the Mississippi Department of Corrections forward, While there have been many challenges, my administration has kept its focus on that goal," Hall said in her December statement.
Hall has since accepted a position in the private sector.
Subsequently, Reeves has been tasked with finding a new department commissioner.
"I have instructed the Mississippi Department of Corrections to begin the necessary work to start closing Parchman's most notorious unit, Unit 29. I've seen enough. We have to turn the page. This is the first step, and I have asked the department to begin the preparations to make it happen safely, justly and quickly," Reeves stated according to CBS News.
To date, 375 of those incarcerated at the facility have been moved to the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility. Nonetheless, 625 offenders are still being housed in the unit due to "lack of staff and resources."
The horrific conditions in prisons and unfair verdicts are topics that several public figures are determined to fight.
Mario Mims, popularly known as Yo Gotti, teamed up with Jay-Z's philanthropic organization Team Roc to file a lawsuit against the leader of the Mississippi Department of Corrections and wrote a letter on January 21 pleading with Reeves to declare a state of emergency and address what he calls a "humanitarian crisis," as Blavity previously reported.
"We recognize that there are people incarcerated in the [Mississippi Department of Corrections] for due cause—that they may be considered a danger to society. We are asking that they be able to serve their sentences as human beings and not animals," the letter stated.
On January 22, Maya Moore, a WNBA player and world-class athlete, opted out of her contract with the Minnesota Lynx for the second year in a row in an attempt to fight for the release of Jonathan Irons.
Irons, who is now 39, was accused of robbery and assault at the age of 16. The victim testified that Irons was the culprit, but there were no witnesses, fingerprints, footprints, DNA nor blood evidence to connect Irons to the crime, as Blavity previously reported.
"I’m in a really good place right now with my life, and I don’t want to change anything, basketball has not been foremost in my mind. I’ve been able to rest, and connect with people around me, actually be in their presence after all of these years on the road. And I’ve been able to be there for Jonathan," Moore told The New York Times.