Justice Department Finds Unconstitutional Conditions in Mississippi Prisons

Published 11:17 am Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Today, the Justice Department announced its findings that conditions of confinement at three Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) facilities violate the 8th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The Department’s 60-page report details its findings from a thorough investigation of the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, South Mississippi Correctional Institution, and Wilkinson County Correctional Facility. These three prisons currently house about 7,200 people.

The report concludes that MDOC routinely violates the constitutional rights of people incarcerated at all three facilities by failing to protect them from widespread physical violence. The state does not adequately supervise the incarcerated population, control the flow of contraband, adequately investigate incidents of serious harm, or provide adequate living conditions. These problems are exacerbated by chronic understaffing that has allowed gangs to exert improper influence inside the prisons.

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The report also concludes that Mississippi unconstitutionally subjects persons at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility and Wilkinson County Correctional Facility to prolonged restrictive housing under harsh conditions that place them at substantial risk of severe physical and psychological harm.

“People living in prisons and jails have a constitutional right to safe and adequate living conditions,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer. “Our investigation uncovered that people in these three facilities were subjected to violent and unsafe conditions, in violation of the Constitution. We look forward to working with Mississippi officials to remedy these violations and improve safety and living standards for people incarcerated in Mississippi.”

“Every state is constitutionally obligated to protect the people it incarcerates from known, pervasive, and deliberately unchecked violence, and to house people in conditions that do not pose a serious risk of physical and psychological harm,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our investigation uncovered chronic, systemic deficiencies that create and perpetuate violent and unsafe environments for people incarcerated at these three Mississippi facilities. The unconstitutional conditions in Mississippi’s prisons have existed for far too long, and we hope that this announcement marks a turning point toward implementing sound, evidence-based solutions to these entrenched problems. The Justice Department stands ready to enforce the dictates of the Constitution that protect the safety and human dignity of all people housed at state prison facilities. Our work clarifies that people do not abandon their civil and constitutional rights at the jailhouse door.”

“Ensuring constitutional and humane conditions of confinement in our prisons is a key part of public safety,” said U.S. Attorney Clay Joyner for the Northern District of Mississippi. “By allowing physical violence, illegal gang activity, and contraband to run rampant, Mississippi not only violates the rights of people incarcerated at these facilities but also compromises the legitimacy of law enforcement efforts to protect our communities. Our office remains committed to upholding the rights of all our district’s residents. We look forward to working with the Mississippi Department of Corrections to protect the constitutional and civil rights of those incarcerated at these three Mississippi prison facilities.”

“The conclusion of the investigation and the issuance of findings is only the start of the work necessary to ensure that the state of Mississippi and the Mississippi Department of Corrections fulfill their constitutional obligations to the people it incarcerates,” said U.S. Attorney Todd W. Gee for the Southern District of Mississippi. “The minimum remedial measures outlined in this report create the framework for what the state must do to reasonably protect people in these facilities from violence and prevent deprivation of fundamental physical and psychological needs. While this report clarifies that there is much work for the state to do, we are committed to working with state officials to ensure that Mississippi abides by its constitutional obligations.”

Today’s announcement follows the Department’s April 2022 report finding that conditions at the Mississippi State Penitentiary (known as Parchman) violated the constitutional rights of persons incarcerated there by subjecting them to violence, failing to provide adequate care for serious mental health needs, or adequate suicide prevention measures and using prolonged restrictive housing in a manner that poses a risk of serious harm.

The Justice Department launched its investigation of Parchman, Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, South Mississippi Correctional Institution, and Wilkinson County Correctional Facility in February 2020 under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA). As required by CRIPA, the department provided the State of Mississippi with written notice of the supporting facts for its conclusions and the minimum remedial measures necessary to address the alleged violations.

The Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section and the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the Northern and Southern Districts of Mississippi conducted the investigation.