In a prepared release, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division announced today that it has opened an investigation into conditions of confinement in four of Mississippi’s prisons.

The investigation will examine conditions at the Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman), Southern Mississippi Correctional Institute, Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, and the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility. The State of Mississippi is responsible for all four facilities.

The investigation will focus on whether the Mississippi Department of Corrections adequately protects prisoners from physical harm at the hands of other prisoners at the four prisons, as well as whether there is adequate suicide prevention, including adequate mental health care and appropriate use of isolation, at Parchman.

Mississippi Attorney General issued her own statement with the news of the DOJ action.

“Since taking office on January 9th, I have been made aware of the conditions with the Mississippi Department of Corrections and my office immediately took a proactive position to meet and address these challenges,” Fitch said. “I visited Parchman personally and my staff and I have had conversations with the Department of Justice and others about next steps. I will work closely with the U.S. Department of Justice in their investigation and I am committed to ensuring safety and justice for all parties.”

The Department has not reached any conclusions regarding the allegations in this matter.

The investigation will be conducted under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA).  Under CRIPA, the Department has the authority to investigate violations of prisoners’ constitutional rights that result from a “pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of such rights.”

The Department has conducted CRIPA investigations of many correctional systems, and where violations have been found, the resulting settlement agreements have led to important reforms.

The Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section is conducting this investigation, with support from the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Northern and Southern Districts of Mississippi.