Parchman is a mess

Published 8:26 pm Thursday, August 2, 2007

Parchman is a mess that’s overdue for cleaning up.

Authorities were awaiting autopsy reports on an inmate who died after being stabbed more than a dozen times at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, Sunflower County Deputy Coroner Heather Burton said Thursday.

Donald Reed Jr., 26, was killed last week, and two other inmates were injured in a violent attack by other convicts at the sprawling prison in the Mississippi Delta, officials said.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Reed was serving two life sentences for homicides in Scott County, according to the Mississippi Department of Corrections Web site. He had been a state convict since 1995.

That inmates, who have plenty of time on their hands, can fashion weapons out of ordinary items — Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps said the shanks used in last week’s attacks were made from the metal covers of air circulation vents found in cells — is not surprising. What is surprising is the frequency of security lapses at Parchman.

Reed’s slaying comes just about a week since a .380-caliber semiautomatic pistol and two loaded magazines were discovered in an inmate’s cell in the unit. A shakedown after the gun’s discovery turned up at least two shanks, Epps said. The discovery also prompted the transfer of the unit’s warden and the firing of the guard who reported the weapon.

Also on Wednesday, a nurse practitioner, George Farrell, who works for Wexford Health Sources at the prison, was charged with possession of a firearm on prison grounds, officials said.

In April, Kevin King, a mentally ill inmate with a long history of disciplinary problems, said a guard beat him in the shower with a pair of handcuffs and then forced him to kneel while in handcuffs as another guard sprayed pepper spray into a wound.

In May, inmate Lemarcus Lee Hillard, who was serving time for cocaine possession with intent to distribute, stabbed convicted killer Boris Harper to death with a spear fashioned from a mop handle and a piece of metal from his toilet as Harper walked by his cell. The stabbing was gang related, according to Epps.

In June, inmate Tacoma Elmore apparently committed suicide in his cell by hanging himself with a bedsheet.

These incidents not only present an ever-present danger to the staff and inmates at Parchman, but they also erode public confidence in the system. It creates an aura of incompetency at best, complicity at worst. Either way, it must stopped.

It may be called the Department of Corrections, but with all this illegal activity, there can’t be much correcting going on at Parchman.

If the state can’t handle its responsibility, it needs to get out of the prison business.