DOJ Launches Civil Rights Investigation Into Mississippi Prisons

By Shani Saxon Feb 06, 2020

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on February 5 that it is launching a civil rights inquiry into Mississippi’s state prisons, NPR reports. 

As previously reported by Colorlines, activists began calling for a federal investigation into Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) in January after a string of incarcerated people died in custody in less than a month. 

Reports NPR:

The department’s civil rights division says it will examine conditions at four Mississippi prisons, including the state penitentiary at Parchman, the state’s oldest, where a prison riot broke out on December 29 after an inmate was killed. The all-male prison includes the state’s death row.

A total of 15 people have died while in custody of MDOC since December, according to NPR. Prison officials insist two of those deaths were due to suicide, however the remaining 13 are believed to be gang-related murders. MDOC officials say an additional 29 staff members have been assaulted since December. Most of the injured staffers worked at Parchman prison, which has been at the center of the state’s penitentiary problem. 

On January 27, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves announced that he would close Unit 29 of Parchman due to reports of extreme violence at the prison. As Colorlines reported at the time:

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.”

The DOJ released a statement outlining the purpose of the agency’s investigation into MDOC: "The investigation will focus on whether the Mississippi Department of Corrections adequately protects prisoners from physical harm at the hands of other prisoners at the four prisons, as well as whether there is adequate suicide prevention, including adequate mental health care and appropriate use of isolation, at Parchman."

As Colorlines previously reported, dozens of incarcerated people filed a lawsuit against the MDOC on January 14, arguing "that prisons are understaffed and that they’re being forced to live in cruel conditions, including issues with food, water leaks, mold and rats." Jay-Z’s Roc Nation is reportedly funding the lawsuit.

Tate expressed gratitude to the DOJ and says his team will cooperate fully with the investigation, according to NPR.