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What is it About Mississippi?

W. Scott Cole

Posted on February 2, 2020 02:10

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“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky. If this is true, and it does sound reasonable, then Mississippi REALLY needs help in catching up to the rest of us.

It would be fair to say the State of Mississippi is in crisis over its Department of Corrections. The brutality, violence, and lack of humane treatment at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, known as Parchman Farm, is just now becoming known to the world at large. It’s not a pretty picture, and it is not confined to just the one prison.

Cell phones are contraband in every prison in the nation. Contraband is smuggled into prisons in every state in the nation, including in Mississippi. Recently, contraband cell phones in Parchman were put to use by inmates to show what life is like there. Because of the pictures, the stories are now coming out. It is not only sickening, but if animals were treated in this way and kept in these conditions, the owner would be charged with animal abuse.

"How bad can it be?" you say.

These are people we are talking about, not animals. The pictures show rat-infested cells, unusable toilets, and neglect of even severe medical conditions. They show the food being served to people that is truthfully an unidentifiable blob, with very little being given to the inmates at each meal.

The kitchen at Parchman is cited by the Health Department on a regular basis for many violations, including the presence of flies and mosquitos, as well as things like moldy food being left in ovens. Being in the South, with no pest control, cockroaches are a given. Not just in the kitchen, but all over.

In the rest of the facility, the buildings are falling apart, with no attempts being made to repair them. In addition to unusable toilets, sinks don’t work, some places have had the sinks removed and not replaced, and there are bare electrical wires in dayrooms. However, in at least some parts of the prison, there is no danger of accidental electrocution, simply because there is no electricity to the dayrooms or cells.

The ACLU has sued the state before over its lack of even basic medical and mental health care, but the settlements reached in those lawsuits don’t seem to be followed much. One woman tells of her son, who contracted sarcoidosis in Parchman. Sarcoidosis is an infection of the lungs and other organs. He also has thyroid cancer. He is receiving no treatment for either problem.

When the cry for improving conditions gets to be too much to ignore, Parchman closes the worst building, Cellhouse 32. This happens about once every 10 years. Yes, it gets reopened within a couple years, with no or very few repairs being made.

Since December 29, 2019, 14 inmates have been killed in violence in state facilities. In at least one case, the dead inmate laid where he had been killed for several hours before staff showed up to take the body away.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, and this is what a system gone bad looks like. No system should ever be allowed to reach this point.

W. Scott Cole

Posted on February 2, 2020 02:10

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by Jerry Mitchell , Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting This article was produced in...

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