Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves announced on January 27 that he will close a particularly troubled unit in a widely criticized state-operated prison, Time reports. In his first State of the State address, Reeves said that Unit 29 at Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, where multiple incarcerated people have died in recent weeks due to violent altercations, will be shut down as soon as possible.
“A 26-year-old man on Sunday (January 26) became the 12th incarcerated person to die in Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) custody in less than a month,” The Clarion Ledger reports. Joshua Norman was found hanging in his single cell inside Unit 29, according to the local paper.
Reeves said in his televised address that the people of his state deserve much better. “All Mississippians must be able to trust that the people in charge of the system are acting with competence to keep them safe,” he said. “We must be able to trust that the corrections officers operating these prisons have the tools that they need to do their jobs and that they are compensated fairly.”
As Colorlines previously reported, prison reform advocates wrote a letter on January 7 accusing Mississippi of civil rights and constitutional violations following a “wave of widespread violence.” The letter stated:
The Mississippi prison system is in a state of acute and undeniable crisis, with five deaths in just the last 10 days, and a history of preventable deaths and injuries stretching back years…. Mississippi has acknowledged the danger presented by severe understaffing and horrific conditions, but has repeatedly failed to take appropriate action.
“I’ve seen enough,” Reeves said in his speech. “We have to turn the page. This is the first step, and I have asked the department to begin the preparations to make it happen safely, justly and quickly.”
According to Time, on January 14, the day Reeves was inaugurated, dozens of incarcerated people filed a lawsuit against the MDOC:
They argued that prisons are understaffed and that they’re being forced to live in cruel conditions, including issues with food, water leaks, mold and rats. Rapper Yo Gotti and Team Roc, the philanthropic arm of Jay Z’s Roc Nation company, have provided the inmates with legal representation.
Yo Gotti sent a statement to Time regarding the governor’s move to close Unit 29. “[Reeves] must implement broader safety measures to address similar issues in other units and urgently provide inmates with medical attention,” it read. “In the interim, we’re calling for the Department of Justice to step in, move the Parchman inmates to federal prisons and ensure their immediate well-being.”
An exclusive look at the horrifying, inhumane conditions from inside the walls of #Mississippi’s #ParchmanPrison. Sign the petition for #msprisonreformnow at https://t.co/xYgBBunoei pic.twitter.com/OFW1fetnLx— Team Roc (@teamroc) January 28, 2020
According to Time, the MDOC has moved some of the incarcerated people at Parchman to private prisons throughout the state.