Mississippi inmate died Monday, the same day the governor extended an emergency order allowing the state to quickly spend money to try to resolve problems in a prison system beset by violence and poor living conditions.
The two developments were announced separately, and there was no indication that Gov. Tate Reeves’ extension of the emergency order was in response to the latest death.
The U.S. Justice Department is investigating Mississippi prisons after a string of inmate deaths. The death Monday brings the total to at least 16 since late December.
Many jobs for Mississippi prison guards are unfilled. Health inspections have found recurring problems, including clogged toilets and moldy showers.
Most of the inmate deaths have occurred at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman and many of them during violent clashes.
Sunflower County Coroner Heather Burton said an autopsy will be done on James Allen Brown, 54, who died Monday. He was serving life for murder, plus 25 years for residential burglary, in Scott County. He was sentenced June 11, 1993.
Burton said no foul play is suspected in Brown’s death, according to a news release from the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
The Justice Department announced Wednesday that its civil rights division is investigating whether Mississippi corrections officials are adequately protecting prisoners from physical harm and whether there are adequate health care and suicide prevention services.
The investigation will focus on conditions at the Parchman, the South Mississippi Correctional Institution, the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility and the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility, the Justice Department said.
The Wilkinson facility holds state prisoners, and the state pays a private company, Management & Training Corporation, to operate it.
An outburst of violence in late December and early January occurred when Phil Bryant was ending his second term as governor and fellow Republican Reeves was ending a second term as lieutenant governor. Bryant signed an emergency declaration for prisons Jan. 6, and Reeves was inaugurated as governor Jan. 14.
Reeves said in his State of the State address in late January that he has ordered the Department of Corrections to take steps to shut down Parchman’s Unit 29, where many of the problems have occurred.
About 1,400 inmates were housed in Unit 29 when violence broke out a few weeks ago. Reeves said Thursday that the number had decreased to about 900.
Mississippi is also facing a federal lawsuit over prison conditions. It was filed in mid-January on behalf of some Parchman inmates, and the plaintiffs’ expenses are being paid by Team Roc, a philanthropic group connected to entertainment mogul Jay-Z’s company, Roc Nation.
Source: Associated Press – EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS