Walter L. Hodge (38), of Edwards, was found unconscious in his cell at Unit5B at East Mississippi Correctional Facility Jan. 17, Mississippi Department of Corrections spokesperson Grace Fisher confirmed Tuesday. Fisher stated that the cause of death and the manner in which it occurred are still being investigated by the state medical examiner’s. Clayton Cobbler, Lauderdale County coroner, told Mississippi Today Monday that Hodge died from hanging using a sheet. Cobbler stated that Hodge was in his cell alone. Hodge’s death is the first to be publicly reported by the Department of Corrections in the facility. At least six people were killed in the East Mississippi facility last year, a figure that is more than the six-year average. A federal lawsuit is pending. The expert report submitted by plaintiffs regarding conditions at East Mississippi Correctional Facility claims that the prison’s health system may have contributed to six of the deaths. Marc F. Stern, a correctional healthcare consultant, wrote that the Mississippi Department of Corrections is “still derelict” in its oversight of EMCF’s health care. Stern was representing the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit, which was brought to court by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center, as well as private companies. Stern stated that there are “new, serious problems” Stern had not seen before. These included inaccessibility to non-urgent and urgent care, failure of nurses to give medications to patients, failure to conduct meaningful welfare inspections on residents who were placed in isolation cells, as well as unsafe facility conditions such as persistent fires and exposed wires. Stern stated that at least two of six deaths were preventable. The lawsuit brought by prisoners against the Department of Corrections alleges that the conditions at the facility are not constitutional. East Mississippi Correctional Facility houses more than 1,200 men. Most of them have a mental illness diagnosis. Management and Training Corp runs the prison. After a jury trial, U.S. District Judge William Barbour asked experts from both sides to examine medical care and staffing in the prison. This was after Barbour’s tour of the facility and the arguments made by the state about improved conditions. Barbour, who handed over many of the cases on his docket after his retirement, is still on the bench for the EMCF-class-action lawsuit. According to expert reports filed by plaintiffs last autumn, the systemic problems identified during the course of the suit still remain. According to the reports, prisoners are still not able to access medical care due to Centurion’s failures to follow policies and procedures. Management and Training Corp officers have failed to escort them from appointments and locked down multiple times, causing medical appointments to be cancelled. The state countered these claims in its expert reports. It noted changes in the facility and its management, including the hiring of additional case managers, medical staff, and mandatory training for nurses, and increased compliance in administering medication to patients. Patrick Arnold, the medical director at the facility, stated in his report that he had reviewed all medical records within three days of each death. Arnold stated that he believed that no other treatment or care could have been given to the inmates that would have prevented their deaths. “I have been given either the toxicology or coroner’s reports for each case since that time and my opinions haven’t changed.” According to Mississippi Today data, two people died at the facility each year from 2012 through 2017, according to public records requests. In Alabama, the SPLC is currently litigating mental ill prisoners in prisons. It recently filed an emergency motion to a temporary restraining or against the Department of Corrections after a string of suicides in custody. Hodge was almost two decades into his life sentence for murder. A jury found him guilty in 2001. He appealed the decision in 2002, 2003, and 2009. Hodge was also sentenced to one year in 2008 for possessing a controlled substance at a Greene County facility.