Working with only half its staff Mississippi prison on lockdown since January

Published 5:23 pm Monday, April 29, 2019

A Mississippi prison has been on lockdown since January because of continued problems with short staffing.

About 1,800 of the 3,000 inmates at the South Mississippi Correctional Institution are locked in their cells 23 hours a day and have not been allowed visitors, the Clarion Ledger reported.

During a lockdown, inmates are not allowed outside their cells for work assignments, education classes or vocational-technical training, to go to church or the library inside the prison.

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Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Pelicia Hall told the newspaper that privileges suffer but restricting movement is necessary because the prison in Leakesville has a 48 percent vacancy rate for jobs.

“Under my administration, the Mississippi Department of Corrections does not condone or tolerate the mistreatment of staff or incarcerated persons,” Hall said. “If information is brought to my administration’s attention and an investigation finds there has been a violation of the department’s policies and procedures or that a civil rights violation or crime has occurred, then the MDOC will act appropriately.”

Hall asked legislative budget writers to set aside $7 million for pay raises for prison guards, called correctional officers. Lawmakers approved about $1.5 million to adjust some salaries.

The starting pay for a correctional officer without a degree or experience is $24,903 a year. Someone with a college degree or corrections experience starts at $26,148. Last month, the Department of Corrections began accepting applications to fill some of the vacant jobs.

South Mississippi Correctional Institution houses male offenders who are classified minimum, medium and close custody levels, as well as protective custody and long-term segregation. In 2017, some inmates at the prison staged a hunger strike, citing inhumane conditions. Last year, a convicted murderer escaped from the prison and an inmate’s mother said her son was set on fire by a fellow inmate.

In 2018, a five-week trial took place in federal court in Jackson over conditions at the privately run East Mississippi Correctional Facility near Meridian, where many of the inmates have mental illness. Inmates complained about harsh, unconstitutional conditions at the prison.

More than 400 exhibits were introduced into evidence. Testimony was heard from 32 fact witnesses and nine expert witnesses.
Senior U.S. District Judge William Barbour Jr. has yet to rule. He appointed experts to examine conditions at the prison and report to him.