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Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Chaos, Violence, and Corruption in the Mississippi Prison System

     Conditions in Mississippi state prisons are among the worst in the country and have been that way for several years. Due to massive budget cuts and low pay and poor working conditions for correctional officers, the state's prisons are significantly understaffed. With 1,300 positions unfilled, there are empty guard towers. Sixty-five percent of guard personnel are women. Because security officers start at $26,000 a year, a lot of men don't want the job.

     Over the past several years, prison guards have supplemented their incomes by smuggling drugs and other contraband into the prisons. Moreover, many of the security officers are reported to be abusive.

     In May 2019, cell phones smuggled into several of the state's prisons documented the horrific living conditions with photographs posted on social media. These images prompted a state inspection of the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman that revealed cells without lights, pillows or even mattresses. The photographs also showed rats and open sewage.

     According to inmates at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, the prison was run by gangs such as the Vice Lords and the Black Gangster Disciples. The gangs controlled everything including where prisoners slept, where they ate, and how much food they got. Some inmates were actually starving to death.

     While politicians talked about the problems in their state's correctional system, and blamed each other for it, all hell broke loose in three of Mississippi's correction facilities. Between December 29, 2019 and January 3, 2020, five inmates were killed in gang violence and riots.

     On January 4, 2020, amid the disturbances, two inmates escaped from the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, the site of two of the five inmate deaths. David May, 42 and Dillon Williams, 27, were discovered missing during an early morning emergency count. May was serving a life sentence for two aggravated assault convictions and Williams a 40 year sentence for aggravated assault committed during a residential burglary.

     On January 5, 2020, U.S. Marshals took escapee David May into custody. Shortly thereafter, police officers captured Dillon Williams.

     Every prison in the state was in lockdown mode which meant inmates could not leave their cells. 

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