Governor Reeves says state is aware of the challenges, noting strides have been made to correct what’s at issue over last 2 years. 

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) concluded a two-year long investigation into the operations at Parchman, Mississippi’s State Penitentiary, after allegations that the facility violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

The DOJ found that the facility was in violation of those amendments. That announcement was made by Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Division, U.S. Attorney Clay Joyner for the Northern District of Mississippi and U.S. Attorney Darren J. LaMarca for the Southern District of Mississippi on Wednesday.

The federal agency began its investigation in February 2020. They looked into three facilities: Southern Mississippi Correctional Institution, Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, and Wilkinson County Correctional Facility.

DOJ found that there was reasonable cause to believe the state routinely violated constitutional rights of prisoners incarcerated at Parchman.

Their findings included: 

  • Failing to provide adequate mental health treatment to people with serious mental health needs;
  • Failing to take sufficient suicide prevention measures to protect people at risk of self-harm;
  • Subjecting people to prolonged isolation in solitary confinement in egregious conditions that place their physical and mental health at substantial risk of serious harm; and
  • Failing to protect incarcerated people from violence at the hands of other incarcerated people.

The DOJ also provided the state with written notice, a 59-page findings letter, of the supporting facts for the above findings which include the minimum of what must be changed in order to rectify what was found to be in error. This is a stipulation of the Civil Rights Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA).

“The Constitution guarantees that all people incarcerated in jails and prisons are treated humanely, that reasonable measures are taken to keep them safe, and that they receive necessary mental health care, treatment, and services to address their needs,” said Assistant Attorney General Clarke. “Our investigation uncovered evidence of systemic violations that have generated a violent and unsafe environment for people incarcerated at Parchman. We are committed to taking action that will ensure the safety of all people held at Parchman and other state prison facilities. We look forward to working with state officials to institute comprehensive reforms.”

U.S. Attorney Clay Joyner added that prisons have a constitutional obligation to keep those who are incarcerated safe and provide them with their basic needs. He added that the state violated those rights by failing to keep them safe from physical harm and providing a lack of adequate mental health care.

“People confined to Parchman experience serious physical and psychological harm as a result. Our office is dedicated to defending the civil rights of all our district’s residents, including those who are incarcerated. We look forward to continuing to work with the Mississippi Department of Corrections to protect the civil rights of those incarcerated at Parchman,” said U.S. Attorney Joyner.

DOJ officials said those who owe a debt to society should have their basic needs met while incarcerated.

“The action taken today by the Department of Justice will ensure that the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman fulfills its constitutional obligations,” said U.S. Attorney LaMarca. “Those obligations extend to reasonable efforts to provide basic mental health care, prevent violence between incarcerated persons and prevent suicides. Those who owe a debt to society should have these basic needs while paying that debt. We are committed to working with state officials to ensure that the State of Mississippi abides by its constitutional obligations.”

The Mississippi Department of Corrections did not comment on the findings.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Governor Tate Reeves told reporters he knows the challenges at Parchman and noted the efforts being made to solve the problems.

“We have significant strides in Parchman in the last two years, everything from significantly reducing the number of inmates at Parchman all the way to working with the Legislature this year to get funding to increase the number of officers we have,” Reeves said.