Mississippi governor says state will shut down portion of notorious state prison after rash of violence

Published 5:21 pm Monday, January 27, 2020

Mississippi will take steps to close part of a state prison that has been rocked by deadly violence and beset by longstanding problems such as broken toilets and moldy showers, Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday in his first State of the State address.

At least 12 inmates have died in Mississippi prisons since late December — most of them at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, and many of them in outbursts of violence. Prison problems have dominated much of Republican Reeves’ time since he was inaugurated as governor Jan. 14.

In a prepared text of his State of the State speech, Reeves said he has told the Mississippi Department of Corrections “to begin the necessary work to start closing Parchman’s most notorious unit — Unit 29.”

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He said logistical questions about the closing must be answered.

“But I have seen enough,” Reeves said. “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.”

Governors generally use the State of the State to discuss the economy and to outline goals for the legislative session.

Reeves said in his speech that he wants to improve the foster care system, increase pay for teachers and enhance training for workers. Reeves said the “big lie” is that all Americans must embark on the same path that includes at least a four-year university degree.

“In Mississippi, we know there is pride in a trade. We know that there is money to be made,” Reeves said. “We can let the East Coast have their ivory towers. We can let the West Coast have a generation of gender studies majors. We will take more jobs and higher pay.”

He also said he wants to reduce state regulations.

“That means eliminating those unfair regulations that keep people from earning licenses to work,” Reeves said.

Reeves and other officials toured part of Parchman last week, and he said Thursday that the state is taking immediate steps to try to improve living conditions that he described as “terrible.”

Multiple health department inspections have shown problems at Parchman, such as broken sinks and toilets, holes in cell walls and widespread mold and mildew in showers.

Before Reeves became governor, he served two terms as lieutenant governor and two terms as state treasurer.