Since late December, the eighteenth inmate of Mississippi’s
prison system died
at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin County, Mississippi. While
this inmate had no obvious signs of injury on his body, most of the other
deaths were the result of violence or suicide.
These deaths occur as the result of conditions that have
been in place for some time in the state’s prison
system. Reports of dehumanizing occurrences like murders, rapes, beatings,
and torture often targeting inmates of racial minorities are not uncommon. Many
prisons have open sewage, a polluted water supply, and kitchens with rodent and
Such conditions are inherently damaging to all inmates’
mental health, and even more so for inmates with a history of mental illness. Interestingly,
in 2009, the ACLU
identified the mental health program at Parchman Prison in Mississippi as the
gold standard for prison-based mental health treatment. The program focused on
administrative segregation, or solitary confinement. Prison guards typically
segregation to punish inmates for violent or disruptive behavior.Inmates
are isolated in their cells for twenty-three hours per day with only one hour
outside the cell for exercise and a shower.
Parchman Prison’s program involved three
parts: (1) identify inmates in administrative segregation who needed mental
health treatment, (2) reward inmates in administrative segregation for good
behavior by allowing them to return to the general population, and (3) create
humane conditions in the general population to prevent the need for
administrative segregation. The
response to this program showed a decrease in violence and gang activity
throughout the prison. The number of inmates in administrative segregation
decreased by eighty percent.
This program is no longer in place in Parchman or any prison
in Mississippi. One reason for the falling conditions may be due to a loss of funding.
With inadequate funding, staffing and the maintenance of facilities becomes difficult.
Parchman Prison’s program was the result of heavy litigation
by prisoners who challenged the administrative segregation classification and
the lack of mental health services. Following various court orders, the
population in administrative segregation was reduced and violence decreased. Mental
health staff worked closely with custody staff to ensure that inmates with
severe mental health issues were receiving appropriate treatment and an avenue
to return to the general population. These programs were monitored
by the federal courts until 2011.
In addition to violence within prisons, failing to provide
adequate mental health treatment for inmates who need it will cost states more after
releasing inmates, through recidivism and health care costs.
is another cause of violence in prisons. A Mississippi health inspector
recently visited a Parchman Prison housing unit and declared it unsafe
for habitation due to crumbling infrastructure and unsanitary conditions,
meaning that 1,500 inmates needed to be moved to adequate cells. Currently, 625
inmates still need cells.
If Mississippi wants to prevent more deaths, then it must
increase funding to provide sanitary and humane conditions and adequate mental
health treatment for its inmates. Failing to do so will likely cause more
housing unit condemnations, overcrowding, and violence.