Two more inmates found dead, autopsies planned; No foul play yet suspected.

Published 2:49 pm Friday, February 28, 2020

Autopsies will be done on two more inmates who died in a Mississippi prison that is under U.S. Justice Department investigation.

One death occurred Thursday and the other occurred Friday at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

There is “no evidence of foul play” in either death, Sunflower County Coroner Heather Burton said in a news release Friday. The prisoners’ names were not immediately released because officials were notifying their families.

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With those included, at least 21 inmates have died in Mississippi prisons since late December. Some of the deaths happened during outbursts of violence. Some inmates were found hanging in their cells. Coroners said other deaths were from natural causes but autopsies were being done.

The U.S. Justice Department announced Feb. 5 that its civil rights division would investigate Parchman and other Mississippi prisons that have struggled with violence, tight budgets, short staffing and shoddy living conditions.

Mississippi prison officials have told state budget writers for years that the department has trouble hiring guards because the jobs are dangerous and the pay is low. Despite the requests, budgets were cut.

Health inspections have also shown repeated problems with broken toilets and moldy showers at Parchman.

Two federal lawsuits have been filed on behalf of prisoners since January, saying Parchman is dangerous, vermin-infested and unfit for human habitation. Attorneys in both lawsuits are being paid by entertainment mogul Jay-Z, rapper Yo Gotti and Team Roc, the philanthropic arm of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves took office in mid-January and said several days later that he had ordered the state Department of Corrections to shut down most of Parchman’s Unit 29, where some of the violence has occurred. Reeves said last week that about 500 more inmates will be moved from Parchman to the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility, which is about 5 miles (8 kilometers) away. The Tallahatchie prison is run by a private company, CoreCivic.

Death row inmates will remain at Unit 29 because state law specifies they must be there. Some lower-security inmates who do maintenance work at Parchman will also remain in the unit, which has about a dozen buildings.