/Parchman’s former supermax unit, shuttered amid civil-rights lawsuits, back in use after prison unrest

Parchman’s former supermax unit, shuttered amid civil-rights lawsuits, back in use after prison unrest

MDOC’s online database of inmates listed over 100 people in Unit 32 of Mississippi State Penitentiary as of Sunday. A former attorney representing prisoners at the facility confirmed that images of the unit were taken by men who moved into it this week via social media. The unit was once home to mentally ill prisoners and was closed down by Christopher Epps, the former corrections commissioner. This followed litigation from the American Civil Liberties Union. “You had men who had been there for years, who were placed in lockdown conditions and were kept in cells in units where basic necessities such as sinks and toilets weren’t working [and] the lighting wasn’t adequate or nonexistent,” Eric Balaban, senior counsel to the ACLU’s National Prison Project. The ACLU has repeatedly sued Mississippi over the conditions in its prison facilities over the past twenty years. The state’s insecure corrections system has been under increased scrutiny since reports of violent fights between prisoners at various facilities including Parchman and South Mississippi Correctional Institution, Leakesville have surfaced. Two men escaped from Parchman on Jan. 4. Both have been found. Grace Fisher, MDOC communications director, wrote Monday afternoon in an email response to Mississippi Today’s requests that she was unable to answer individual calls or emails. Social media has shown that the agency maintains that prison conditions are stable. Ron Welch is a retired attorney who represented Mississippi state prisoners in the 1970s federal class-action lawsuit Gates against Collier. He said that he saw photos and videos of men in prison walking through puddles in hallways, broken showers, and peeling walls. These images, which Welch claimed are from Unit 32, show that the facility’s structural conditions remain unchanged. Some have used the online inmate locator to track their loved ones’ movements from other prison buildings to Unit 32. Mississippi Today spoke with a woman who had not heard from her husband since Wednesday evening. She said that she called MDOC several times in the past few days but has not received any information about her husbands new location. The woman said that it felt like she was living her own personal hell. She asked for her name to not be published out of fear of reprisal. Cliff Johnson, the MacArthur Justice Center director at the University of Mississippi, stated that the movement of prisoner to Unit 32 indicates that the corrections department has lost control of the other units in the prison. Johnson stated that killing is a result of prison culture. “Due to the absence of control at Unit 29 and elsewhere in Parchman correctional officers were unable to stop the killings without MDOC resorting the extraordinary decision to relocate people into a unit that was abandoned a decade back.” Unit 32 was opened by MDOC in 1990. The ACLU sued it in 2002. A federal judge found that MDOC had violated prisoners’ constitutional rights. This led to a federal consent decree for improving medical and mental care at the unit. A judge on the basis of Mississippi’s compliance to the consent decree dissolved the agreement between MDOC and ACLU over Unit 32. Balaban confirmed that the federal case does NOT prevent MDOC’s reopening of the unit.