Federal judge says Mississippi prison OK as three fights ends in three inmate deaths this week

Published 2:41 pm Thursday, January 2, 2020

A federal judge has rejected claims that conditions in a Mississippi prison are unconstitutionally harsh. His ruling comes amid violence at three other corrections facilities that resulted in the deaths of three inmates this week.

U.S. District Judge William Barbour ruled Tuesday that while conditions may have previously been poor at East Mississippi Correctional Facility near Meridian, there’s no longer any evidence that the privately run prison is violating inmates’ rights.

A lawsuit suit filed in 2013 alleged that inmates were being systematically denied health care and mental health care, were in danger of violence from guards and other prisoners, and were forced into long stretches in solitary confinement, where cells were often dark and where inmates often set fires.

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“While plaintiffs and their expert witnesses argue that environment and healthcare services at the prison could and should be better, those arguments do not establish that the conditions under which they are currently housed, as a class, are cruel and unusual,” Barbour wrote in his ruling.

The judge wrote that he believed that conditions had improved after former Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps resigned in November 2014.

Epps was later convicted of taking more than $1.4 million in bribes. One of the people who pleaded guilty to bribing Epps was Dr. Carl Reddix, whose company previously had a contract to provide medical and mental health care at East Mississippi.

Barbour said that the bribes “likely affected the quality of care that was being provided to prisoners as well as other conditions at the facility.”

The decision came even as Mississippi’s state prisons remain locked down after the deaths in recent days. The lockdown means that inmates can’t go outside, make phone calls or receive visitors.

One inmate was killed and two were injured in a fight early Thursday at the Chickasaw County Regional Correctional Facility, a county-run facility that holds state inmates.

“We had it under control in three minutes,” Chickasaw County Sheriff Jim Meyers told The Associated Press.
He said investigators were questioning inmates to find out what caused the conflict.

The inmate who died was Gregory Emary, 26, of Hernando, Meyers said. Emary was serving a 16-year sentence for burglary of an unoccupied dwelling.

One inmate was taken to the North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, where he underwent surgery and was in intensive care, Meyers said. The third inmate was taken to a hospital in Calhoun City to be treated for cuts to his head.
The sheriff’s department did not immediately release the names of the two injured inmates.

On Tuesday at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, an inmate died and several others were injured during a fight among prisoners. The fight broke out around 9 p.m. in one unit and soon spread to others around the facility, Sunflower County Coroner Heather Burton told news outlets.

Burton was called to the scene after midnight, where she found an inmate who had suffered multiple stab wounds, she said.
The Mississippi Department of Corrections announced Tuesday that prisons across the state were put under lockdown after a “major disturbance” Sunday at the South Mississippi Correctional Institution in Greene County.

One inmate was killed and two others were hurt during that conflict. The inmate was identified as Terrandance Dobbins. An autopsy is being performed to determine the 40-year-old’s cause of death, corrections officials said.

Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Pelicia Hall announced Tuesday that she will resign in mid-January to take a job in the private sector. She is one of several state agency directors leaving their jobs as the state prepares to inaugurate a new governor Jan. 14.