Mississippi State Penitentiary

Mississippi man convicted of murder and previously sentenced to death will now be paroled

17 views

Mississippi man convicted of murder and previously sentenced to death will now be paroled

Those convicted of murder are not eligible for parole in Mississippi, but court rulings paved the way for a man previously sentenced to to receive parole and be scheduled for release.

Frederick Bell had been serving a sentence at the at Parchman for the May 1991 shooting of 21-year-old Robert “Bert” Bell (no relation) during a robbery in Grenada County. 

Capital murder typically carries the death penalty. But after years of appeals and filing for post-conviction relief, Frederick Bell was resentenced to life without parole and then life with the possibility of parole. He was approved for release by the state Parole Board in August and is set to leave prison as early as Monday. 

Family members of Bert Bell have been attending Parole Board meetings since 2015 and thought Frederick Bell wouldn’t be paroled, but last month Gene Bell, Bert’s younger brother, received a letter saying Frederick Bell’s parole had been approved, according to a copy shared with Mississippi Today. 

The family wants the Parole Board to reconsider. More than 50 community members from Grenada County and beyond have signed a petition addressed to Gov. Tate Reeves asking him to reverse the board’s decision. State law enforcement groups and residents have written to Parole Board Chair Jeffery Belk and board members. Several lawmakers have also spoken about Frederick Bell’s parole. 

“We should never parole a violent criminal,” Gene Bell wrote in a Thursday email to Mississippi Today. “That is not the way to reduce the population in the penal system and is certainly not the way to protect every law-abiding citizen in regards to our safety.”

Belk wrote to Gene Bell about the board’s decision to parole Frederick Bell, saying he understood it would be a disappointment to the family. 

In a previous interview with Mississippi Today, Belk said when considering parole, the board looks at a range of available information, including input from victims and their families and the person’s record while incarcerated, to make a decision. 

“However, in our opinion Bell has been rehabilitated and at this point we feel that parole supervision will be more beneficial than further incarceration,” Belk’s letter states. 

Belk and a spokesperson for the Mississippi Department of Corrections did not respond to a request for comment about Bell’s parole.

Bert Bell at his high school graduation.

On May 6, 1991, then-19-year-old Frederick Bell and a group of men went into Sparks Stop ‘N Go in Grenada County where 21-year-old Bert Bell was working. They bought chips and beer and went outside to eat, according to court records. 

Frederick Bell wanted to go to Memphis and said he needed money so he decided to rob the store, according to court records. He went back inside with one of the group members, Anthony Doss. Gunshots rang out from the store, and Bert Bell was shot nine times and killed. 

Later that day, Frederick Bell and three of the men from the group drove to Memphis, where Bell shot and killed another man, 20-year-old Tommy White. 

In 1993, the Grenada County Circuit Court convicted Frederick Bell and Doss for the killing of Bert Bell. A jury found Frederick Bell killed the store clerk, contemplated using lethal force during the robbery and intended to kill Bert Bell, which factored into its decision to impose the death penalty, according to court records.

Before the 1993 trial, Frederick Bell and another man from the group, Frank Coffey, were charged for the Memphis shooting and pleaded guilty, according to court records.

For years Frederick Bell sought to appeal his Mississippi conviction, including an unsuccessful direct appeal with the state Supreme Court in 1998, multiple filings for post-conviction relief and denied requests for the to take up his case. 

Gene Bell said it is a shame for anyone convicted of a violent to continue to appeal because victims and their families don’t get an opportunity to appeal any decisions made by the courts. 

In 2011, the state Supreme Court found Frederick Bell was entitled to an evidentiary hearing to determine whether he was mentally disabled. This was based on a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found it was cruel and unusual to execute mentally disabled people.

Doctors at the Mississippi State Hospital evaluated Frederick Bell and determined he was mentally disabled.

As a result, in 2013 the Grenada County Circuit Court sentenced Bell to life without parole. He appealed, and in 2015 the State Supreme Court voted 5-4 in his favor. On June 5, 2015, the Grenada County Circuit Court sentenced him to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. 

Gene Bell said his family was devastated to learn his brother’s killer was eligible for parole. He began attending Parole Board hearings in 2015 to speak against Frederick Bell’s release. 

“Do I like doing this? No,” Gene Bell said. “But it’s my duty. It’s my duty for my family and for the law abiding citizens of the great state of Mississippi.”

The family’s main concern is about public safety. Gene Bell said people shouldn’t have to fear the system has failed them by allowing someone who has committed violent crimes out of prison.

A person granted parole will serve the remainder of their sentence under supervision. They are required to report to a parole officer and follow rules laid out by the Mississippi Department of Corrections. 

Gene Bell said the current Parole Board did not indicate it would parole Frederick Bell. 

Rather, the board told him it would extend the time between Frederick Bell’s hearings from one year to up to five years. This would be done out of consideration for Bert Bell’s family. 

“(T)his was too brutal of a case for me and family to have to endure such a horrible date in history this often,” Gene Bell said. 

He doesn’t understand what changed this summer between the July meeting that felt positive and the August one when the board granted Frederick Bell parole. 

The Rev. C.J. Rhodes of Mount Helm Baptist Church in Jackson is President of Clergy for Prison Reform, which is focused on criminal justice issues including parole. 

Parole can be complicated and should be viewed on a case-by-case basis, he said. It should also consider those affected, including victims, their families, the incarcerated people and their families and community. 

The Christian faith recognizes redemption and how incarcerated people can be rehabilitated and demonstrate that after prison. 

“This becomes a test case if we want to apply that particular theology,” Rhodes said. 

The group wants to reimagine corrections in a way that doesn’t emphasize imprisoning people, he said. Rhodes said there is an opportunity to make victims and victimizers whole again, and redemption and rehabilitation shouldn’t be lost in conversation about criminal justice reform

Monday is Frederick Bell’s expected release date. Multiple efforts to reach an attorney for Frederick Bell were not successful. 

Sen. Angela Burks Hill (R-) said in an interview with Supertalk Radio that his release from prison is likely to be delayed because the Parole Board did not follow a state law that requires public notification in a newspaper in the county where the crime was committed.  

Gene Bell remembers his brother as a happy-go lucky person who enjoyed the outdoors and loved his family and friends. 

“We miss Bert tremendously,” Gene Bell said. “We often wonder what he would have become in life.  What would his brother- and sister- in-law think about him and what would his nieces and nephews think about him? How would we all interact as family?”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Burl Cain wants incarcerated people to construct buildings at Parchman

69 views

Prisons chief wants incarcerated people to construct buildings at Parchman

Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain plans to ask the Legislature to pass a bill to allow incarcerated people to construct buildings as a form of job training, a tie in with the department’s focus on reentry.

Under state law, the Department of Administration and Finance oversees construction, repairs, additions and demolition for all state buildings. The department also reviews and pre-approves all architectural and engineering service contracts for building projects. 

Cain said licensed contractors are required to build any state building, which is why he sees a need for a change in state law. 

“It takes too long and we need to move faster,” he told Mississippi Today about the current process. “Those are the things we can hone our own skills on and have the inmates build the buildings themselves.”

Cain envisions incarcerated people constructing one-story buildings that are no more than 5,000 square feet to house prison programs such as a welding school, carpentry program or a commercial truck driving simulator. 

The buildings would be at the at Parchman, which has the most space to the state’s other prisons. A certified contractor, electrician, roofer and others involved would supervise incarcerated people during construction, he said. 

“You’re teaching an electrician how to be an electrician,” Cain said. “You’re teaching a carpenter how to frame a building. You put a roof on a building, you’re teaching an inmate how to be a roofer.”

The commissioner also believes allowing incarcerated people to construct buildings for prison training programs could help save taxpayer money. That is especially true as construction-related costs remain high, he said. 

A Department of Administration and Finance spokesperson declined to comment. 

During a previous legislative session, Cain said he tried to get a law passed to allow incarcerated people to construct buildings, but he said the timing didn’t work out and the effort didn’t have momentum. 

Now that he has reentry, job training and other programs in place, Cain said he has a way to show the Legislature that it should invest in more of his efforts. 

READ MORE: After 121 scalding Mississippi summers, Parchman prison is getting air conditioning

Since becoming commissioner in 2020, Cain has focused on rehabilitation and reentry as a way to prevent people from returning to prison. Skilled jobs training has been part of those efforts. 

Last year, MDOC debuted a mobile welding training center. It started with a group of women at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl and moved to the Correctional Institution in Leakesville.

Earlier this year, MDOC accepted a donated tractor trailer from Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey and District Attorney Bubba Bramlett that was seized during a drug transportation arrest on Interstate 20. The vehicle was turned into a simulator to train incarcerated people for careers in commercial truck driving. 

“Now the trend is reentry, and reentry only happens when you send them out with a skill so he can get a job,” Cain said.

Businesses may not want to hire a formerly incarcerated person to sweep the floor, but he said they may be more inclined to if they are certified and have a skill such as welding, truck driving or roofing. 

More than 9,000 people leave the Missisisppi prison system each year, according to a 2021 report by the Corrections and Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force, which Cain is a member of. 

“Let me have the freedom to teach them how to build those buildings and pour the concrete and let them do that and to prove themselves,” Cain said. 

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Mississippi now leads the world in mass incarceration

65 views

Mississippi now leads the world in mass incarceration

Mississippi is now the world’s leader in putting people behind bars — more inmates per capita than any state or nation, including China, Russia and Iran, according to the World Population Review. 

“Is there a political price to be paid for foolishly sticking with a failed system that’s made us the world capital of mass incarceration?” asked Cliff Johnson, director of the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law. “What’s it going to take for Mississippians to realize that the mass incarceration we have carried out for decades has made us less safe, rather than safer?” 

Across the U.S., the number of those in prison in the U.S. is 16% lower today than before the pandemic, according to the Vera Institute of Justice, but Mississippi’s rate is skyrocketing, rising more than 1,500 in less than six months. That population now exceeds 18,000 — the highest rate since April 2020

“We have perfected throwing people away for long periods of time,” Johnson said, “and yet after decades and decades of this approach, Mississippians are more fearful about violent than any time I remember.” 

In September 2013, Mississippi had as many as 22,490 inmates behind bars. In the years since, reforms and an aggressive Parole Board, headed by a veteran law enforcement officer, reduced the number of inmates to the lowest level in two decades. On Feb. 7, that population fell to 16,499, according to MDOC. 

But with Gov. Tate Reeves’ new board chairman, a former Chevron executive he put in charge in January, that trend has reversed itself. 

On Aug. 1, the prison population hit a high of 18,080

If this current trend continues, Mississippi would top 19,000 inmates before the end of the year and would surpass 22,000 inmates before the end of 2023. 

That additional prison population would cost taxpayers more than $100 million a year, based on the $53.72 per-day cost computed by the state’s legislative watchdog. 

“We’re stuck in this futile cycle of throwing more money at prisons,” Johnson said. “Even with the Department of Justice breathing down our necks, we can’t handle the people we have.” 

The Justice Department began investigating the in Parchman in 2020 after MCIR and ProPublica reported on the increases in grisly violence, gang control and subhuman living conditions. In April, the department reported that the prison’s conditions violate the Constitution. 

The department is investigating other prisons as well. 

Promises, Promises in Prison Reform 

When Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, signed House Bill 585 into law in 2014, the measure drew widespread praise from conservatives and liberals alike because it promised to reduce the prison population, save millions —  $266  million, to be exact — and reinvest some of the money into programs for offenders

Instead, all of those savings went back into the state’s coffers, helping to pay for huge phased-in corporate tax cuts enacted in 2016, because the state was struggling to meet revenue estimates. 

Last year, Reeves signed legislation aimed at expanding parole eligibility to 3,000 more inmates, believing it could be a “net positive for Mississippi.” He later bragged about the significant reduction in inmates at Parchman. 

“I believe in second chances,” he said in an April 22, 2022, tweet. “I trust my Parole Board appointees to make wise decisions.” 

But since his appointment of a new chairman in 2022, the numbers of paroles have declined. 

When Steven Pickett chaired the board between 2013 and 2021, he said about six of every 10 inmates who appeared before the Parole Board earned their release. The board typically saw about 5,000 inmates a year. 

Now the board is rejecting far more requests. So far this year, about three-fourths of inmates who have appeared before the board have been rejected for parole. 

At the same time Mississippi is filling up its prisons, the state is lagging in programs that would help ensure that inmates don’t return. 

“The Mississippi Department of Corrections can’t have a rodeo or enough GED classes, because we don’t have the staffing,” Johnson said. “We probably can’t support more than about 12,000 incarcerated, but we’ve got 18,000.” 

Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain convinced state lawmakers to raise salaries of correctional officers in the 2022 legislative session. 

While hiring officers has proved a struggle, he said Tuesday, “We’re gaining ground. We’re going to show the Justice Department we’re moving along.” 

By fall, he hopes to have 80 schools for inmates to gain certification in engine repair, plumbing, welding, carpentry and other fields. 

By doing this, “we’ll reduce recidivism, and we’ll reduce violence,” he said. “About half of the 4,400 inmates we release each year will have a skill or trade.” 

He ran a similar program at the Louisiana State Penitentiary and saw the recidivism rate drop to less than 10%. 

He called Mississippi’s program “way more intense. We’re meeting a need.” 

Rather than hiring teachers on the outside, he’s using inmates certified in these fields to teach, he said. 

He praised the Parole Board. “We don’t want gangsters getting out,” he said. 

With this new training program for inmates, “we’re going to turn the curve,” he said. “We already have people from Alabama coming to see how we do things.” 

Alternatives to Prison Part of the Solution 

Cain has also started an alcohol and drug program at the once-shuttered Walnut Grove Correctional Facility that houses 32 inmates in a 90-day addiction program. 

Pickett said such programs play an important role in treatment for Mississippi inmates, three-fourths of whom are battling alcohol or drug problems or both. 

For example, he said, if a parolee is caught with meth and has failed to report to his parole officer for two months, what should the Parole Board do? 

Send him back to prison? Or to treatment? 

Locking him up in prison for a year won’t cure his addiction, Pickett said. “All we are doing is putting him in a place that’s dangerous. Meth is just as prolific in prison as it is on the streets. It’s very, very sad.” 

The other option would be the Technical Violation Center. 

State Public Defender Andre de Gruy said the state needs to do a better job of utilizing this center. 

“Now that we’re number one in mass incarceration,” Johnson said, “we ought to stop and take a collective timeout and have a long conversation about whether we’re satisfied and whether we’ve had a good return on the billions we’ve invested. 

“Are we locking up more people because there’s something about Mississippians that make them morally deficient or more likely to commit crime? Or is there something more to this story?” 

Email Jerry.Mitchell@MississippiCIR.org. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. 

This report was produced in partnership with the Community Foundation for Mississippi’s local collaborative, which is independently funded in part by Microsoft Corp. The collaborative includes the Clarion Ledger, the Jackson Advocate, Jackson State University, Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, Mississippi Public Broadcasting and Mississippi Today. We’re also making it available to the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting through a Mississippi Poverty Reporting Collective funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and managed by Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity. 

Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting is a nonprofit news organization that is exposing wrongdoing, educating and empowering Mississippians, and raising up the next generation of investigative reporters. Sign up for our newsletter. 

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

After 121 summers, Parchman prison is getting A/C

102 views

After 121 scalding Mississippi summers, Parchman prison is getting air conditioning

Editor’s note: This story contains references to suicide. If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or dial 988. Local resources include the Mississippi Department of Mental Health DMH Helpline at 1-877-210-8513.

After 121 summers in the Mississippi Delta, the state’s oldest and largest prison is getting air conditioning.

Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain said 48 air conditioning units have been installed at the at Parchman buildings so far, covering 40% of the prison population. 

The process is expected to be complete in the spring, and then air conditioning will be installed at the state’s other prisons, Central Mississippi Correctional Facility and Southern Mississippi Correctional Institution.

“It feels good to get it done,” Cain said in an interview with Mississippi Today. “It’s just the time to do it.” 

Cell blocks at Parchman, located in the scalding fields of the Delta, are made out of concrete. A U.S. Department of Justice report about poor conditions at Parchman said temperatures inside the prison sometimes reach up to 145 degrees. With air conditioning, Cain said, the goal is to get temperatures to a comfortable 78 degrees.

Multiple courts have ruled incarceration in extremely hot or cold temperatures is unconstitutional, said Wanda Bertram, a spokesperson for the Prison Policy Initiative. But despite court rulings, there isn’t a national standard for managing extreme temperatures in jails, she said. 

A 2019 report by the Prison Policy Initiative found 13 southern states including Mississippi lacked central air in their prisons. Years later, most southern states still lack air conditioning in their prisons, Bertram said.  

It’s often older prisons like Parchman that are least likely to have air conditioning throughout their facilities, she said, and that is often because infrastructure needs have piled up. However, there are some newer facilities that don’t have air conditioning. 

“States are choosing not to provide this, often or not,” Bertram said. 

Eastern Mississippi Correctional Facility, which is privately operated for MDOC, has a central air conditioning system, including in all housing units, contractor Management and Training Corporation said in a statement. 

Cain said the Parchman air conditioning project is $650,000 from MDOC’s budget. He also expects to use funds. 

The state prisons commissioner also sees adding air conditioning as a way to address issues raised by the federal government and attract people to work in the state’s prison system. 

In an April 2022 investigation report, the Department of Justice listed high temperatures as one of many issues that exist at Parchman. The report talks about extreme heat in restrictive housing units, which is also known as solitary confinement. 

READ MORE: DOJ says Parchman conditions violate the Constitution

One of the report’s examples about conditions in restrictive housing is about a man who had been on row for about 20 years and had no indication of mental health issues. In February 2021, he began expressing suicidal ideation and the week before his death by suicide, he had been seeking relief from excessive heat in his unit. 

An investigation report found temperatures that week reached 124.5 degrees, and temperature logs from MDOC for the same timeframe showed temperatures between 95 and 145.1 degrees, according to the report. 

“Incarcerated persons in prolonged restrictive housing in egregious conditions at Parchman can and do suffer mental harm, and this harm is evidenced by self-injurious behavior,” the DOJ report states.

People with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, mental illness, poor blood circulation and obesity are more vulnerable to extreme heat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Certain medications and old age can also affect a person’s ability to regulate their body temperature. 

Heat-related illnesses are preventable, according to the CDC, but if untreated they can result in potentially fatal conditions such as heat stroke and dehydration.

One of the remedies the Justice Department recommended to fix constitutional violations is to ensure sanitary and safe conditions, including proper temperature regulation, in restrictive housing. Air conditioning isn’t specified as a specific remedy. 

In addition to addressing extreme temperatures at Parchman, Cain said installing air conditioning can help recruit people to work in the prison system and promote a safer environment.

Adequate staffing is another recommendation by the Justice Department to allow for better supervision, safety and protection from harm. 

The Department of Corrections is looking to hire 600 people, Cain said. 

Correctional officers and case managers received a 10% pay increase earlier this month, with a starting pay of about $17 an hour or $35,500 with benefits. When he first became commissioner in 2020, starting pay was $14 an hour.  

“We’re going to have to work to get there,” Cain said about completing air conditioning installation, staff recruitment and other ongoing projects through the corrections department.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Dire US labor shortage provides opportunity for ex-convicts

80 views

rssfeeds.clarionledger.com – Mississippi Clarion Ledger – 2022-07-10 09:06:45

When Antonio McGowan left the at Parchman after serving 17 years, he was free for the first time since he was 15. But as an adult finally out from behind bars, he immediately found himself confined to menial labor.

McGowan needed stable work, for a paycheck and to keep busy, but temporary gigs were all he could find. Just as those around him counseled the…

Source link

Mississippi Supreme Court blocks more DNA tests in death row case

156 views

rssfeeds.hattiesburgamerican.com – Mississippi Clarion Ledger – 2022-07-05 13:53:02

Willie Jerome Manning

A has ruled that a row inmate will not be allowed to seek additional DNA testing on scene evidence from the shooting deaths of two college students nearly 30 years ago.

Willie Jerome Manning, now 54, remains in the at Parchman. He was convicted in 1994 on two counts of capital murder in the December 1992 killings of…

Source link

Mississippi justices block more DNA tests in death row case

102 views

www.wxxv25.com – Associated Press – 2022-07-05 07:02:27

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A has ruled that a row inmate will not be allowed to seek additional DNA testing on scene evidence from the shooting deaths of two college students nearly 30 years ago.

Willie Jerome Manning, now 54, remains in the at Parchman. He was convicted in 1994 on two counts of capital murder in the December 1992 killings of Mississippi State University…

Source link

MDOC and deputy commissioners now decide method of execution

102 views

New law gives MDOC commissioner choice in how people are executed

Mississippi is set to become the first state where prison officials can choose how a person sentenced to is executed. 

Starting July 1, the Department of Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain and two deputy commissioners will decide the method of execution for incarcerated people: lethal injection, gas chamber, electrocution or firing squad.

“This statute throws it all into the hands of the Mississippi Department of Corrections without guidance and restrictions,” said Ngozi Ndulue, deputy director of the Death Penalty Information Center. 

Twenty-seven states have the death penalty. Ndulue said most use lethal injection as the primary execution method and some have backup execution methods if lethal injection isn’t available. 

Cain has witnessed several executions as the former warden of Louisiana’s Angola State Prison and Mississippi’s most recent execution as the corrections commissioner. 

“The courts are the ones who decide the penalties for , not MDOC,” he said in a Friday statement. “We just hold the keys. When the court orders me, I am required by Mississippi statute to carry out the sentence.”

The law does not specify how MDOC officials are supposed to decide what execution method to select. 

Ndulue said this can lead to decisions being made in an “internal, non-transparent way.” There are considerations, including whether lethal injection drugs are available and there are protocols and training of how to use other forms of execution, she said. 

Mississippi is also a state that has a lot of secrecy about its execution protocols and how it obtains lethal injection drugs, she said. 

“This is something the public doesn’t have a lot of insight into,” Ndulue said. “What is actually going on?”

MDOC officials will have this new responsibility through House Bill 1479 proposed by Rep. Nick Bain, R-Corinth. He chairs the Judiciary B Committee and is vice chair of the Judiciary En Banc Committee. 

Bain said the governor and ’s offices asked for the legislation to be filed because the state was having difficulty obtaining lethal injection drugs to carry out death sentences. 

The previous version of the law, passed in 2017, said if lethal injection was not possible due to unavailable drugs or a legal challenge, an incarcerated person could be put to death by gas chamber. Electrocution was the next option if lethal gas was unavailable and the last alternate was execution by firing squad. 

Lethal injection remains Mississippi’s preferred form of execution, according to legislation. 

“We put language in the final draft saying it is our policy, as the Legislature, that lethal injection be chosen,” Bain said. “That gives (the commissioner) the idea that we want lethal injection and that should be the way to do it.”

Within seven days of receiving a warrant of execution from the , the MDOC commissioner must inform the prisoner of the method in writing. 

Ndulue said the law could lead to last minute legal action about executions. For Mississippi’s most recent execution, there was less than 30 days between the execution being issued and being carried out. 

States have argued they need backup methods of execution because of challenges of obtaining lethal injection drugs, she said. 

Ndulue said some drug manufacturers have objected to their drugs being used for executions. Some states have resorted to getting lethal injection drugs from overseas or going to compounding pharmacies to have the drugs made, she said. 

Lethal injection has also been called into question through legal action. 

An ongoing federal civil filed in 2015 on behalf of three people serving on death row in Mississippi argues the state’s lethal injection protocol violates their right to due process and violates the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. 

Mississippi and other states have used a mix of three drugs including an anesthetic during executions. 

The lawsuit claims compounded or mixed drugs could be “counterfeit, expired, contaminated and/or sub-potent” and could result in prisoners being conscious throughout their execution and subjected to “a tortuous death by suffocation and cardiac arrest.” 

The bill that goes into effect next month specifies the lethal injection drugs used in execution must be “a substance or substance in a lethal quantity” rather than one containing an anesthetic, paralytic agent and potassium chloride, as the 2017 version of the law laid out. 

From the early 1800s to 1940, all Mississippi executions were by hanging, according to MDOC. Execution by electrocution took place from 1940 to 1952, followed by the use of a portable electric chair moved from county to county. Lethal gas executions took place between 1954 and 1984. 

Mississippi carried out 35 gas chamber executions between 1955 and 1989, according to MDOC. 

Between 2002 and 2022, 18 people were executed by lethal injection in the state, according to MDOC.  

All executions are performed at the at Parchman, which is where death row is. 

For women, executions happen in a facility designated by the MDOC commissioner, according to state law. The one woman serving on death row is at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl. 

Mississippi’s most recent execution was that of David Neal Cox on Nov. 17, 2021. 

He was convicted on multiple charges, including the murder of his estranged wife, Kim Cox, and the sexual assault of his then-underage stepdaughter in front of his dying wife in 2010 in Union County. 

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Ex-deputy warden pleads guilty in Mississippi inmate beating

204 views

www.wxxv25.com – Associated Press – 2022-05-27 06:58:20

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A former deputy warden at the has pleaded guilty in a case involving the beating of an inmate, the U.S. Justice Department said Thursday.

In a release, officials said Melvin Hilson, 49, pleaded guilty to violating the inmate’s in 2016.

Hilson was accused of repeatedly striking the victim and knocking him down, causing a ruptured eardrum, ear and neck…

Source link

Parchman conditions violate the Constitution, DOJ says

295 views

U.S. DOJ says Parchman conditions violate the Constitution

Editor’s note: This story contains references to suicide. If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Local resources include the Mississippi Department of Mental Health DMH Helpline at 1-877-210-8513 and the NAMI Mississippi Crisis Lines at 1-877-210-851.

A scathing 59-page report by the U.S. Department of Justice says that Mississippi routinely violates the rights of incarcerated people at at Parchman by failing to stop violence or provide proper mental health treatment, especially for those on suicide watch and in solitary confinement. 

The report says these conditions are the result of years of “deliberate indifference” from the Mississippi Department of Corrections and calls for top-down improvements. It makes more than 80 recommendations for MDOC to implement at Parchman from structural changes such as offering competitive salaries for staff and more programming for incarcerated people to smaller fixes like identifying “all broken or jammed locks.” 

“MDOC has been on notice of these deficiencies for years and failed to take reasonable measures to address the violations, due in part to non-functional accountability or quality assurance measures,” the report says. 

The U.S. may initiate a under the of Institutionalized Persons Act if MDOC does not implement these recommendations in the next 49 days, the report says. But the New York Times reported that the DOJ will likely work with MDOC to address the issues raised in the report.

MDOC declined to comment for this story.

Parchman has long been plagued by reports of unsanitary living conditions and violence. The report describes a Department of Corrections that is ill-equipped to fix the systemic issues at the prison. Among some of the issues identified in the report: 

  • MDOC oversees a “barebones staff” that does not properly investigate violent incidents and rarely, if ever, conducts security patrols in units. Out of 100 assaults on incarcerated people at Parchman, the division responsible for investigating could only produce 24 reports to the DOJ. 
  • Parchman has not had an on-site psychiatrist since 2018, and the prison’s part-time mental health staff frequently misdiagnose incarcerated people with antisocial personality disorder. 
  • Incarcerated people with mental illnesses frequently request to be transferred from Parchman. But due to the lack of mental health services at MDOC’s regional facilities, incarcerated people can’t be moved “if they are on psychoactive medication.” The report says it is common for incarcerated people to stop taking their medication in order to qualify for a transfer, but the mental health staff appear to have never told any patient that is ill-advised. 
  • Incarcerated people who are suicidal are placed in cells that a suicide prevention expert described as “very dangerous” due to ventilation grates, exposed bars, and mesh-covered windows. There is a blind spot in the CCTV monitor that staff are supposed to use to observe these cells. 

Ron Welch, a prisoner’s rights attorney, said responsibility for the conditions at Parchman ultimately lies with the governor and lawmakers who have underfunded the prison system for years. Issues at Parchman began to escalate in 2014, Welch said, after lawmakers started to cut MDOC’s budget.  

DOJ’s report “is long, and it’s lengthy, and it’s detailed, but the bottom line is the Department of Corrections can’t do anything without money,” Welch said. 

The DOJ opened its investigation in February 2020 after a weeks-long spate of violent incidents at facilities across the state. In Parchman alone, several incarcerated people were killed or injured as violence broke out at Unit 29. 

The report says that in the months leading up to the riot, MDOC knew about “widespread rumors” of unlivable conditions, increased murders and suicides, and “mounting concerns that gangs were filling the void left by inadequate staff presence.” Yet MDOC failed to increase staff at Parchman, leaving its existing guards “utterly overwhelmed, and ultimately unable to adequately and quickly respond to fighting and significant injuries in multiple buildings.” 

This created an “authority vacuum” that was filled by gang members, the report says.

Guards at Parchman are supposed conduct head counts at the housing units every 30 minutes, but most typically do not even interact with incarcerated people on a daily basis. This is partly due to guards’ fears of safety, but the report says MDOC does not even provide officers with “personnel safety emergency alarms to alert for help when necessary.” 

“Instead, officers almost exclusively supervise housing units from removed towers that overlook the units,” the report says, adding that “MDOC takes it a step further and sometimes fails to staff the towers at all.” 

As a result, guards do not see and are unable to stop assaults. The report describes one incarcerated person who had to resort to setting a fire in his cell to get the guards’ attention after he was stabbed. 

The lack of staff also has a specific impact on mentally ill incarcerated people. The existing mental health staff consist of three part-time nurse practitioners who manage a caseload of over 200 people a week, which is above American Psychiatric Association’s recommended ratio for prison settings. They are not able to provide individual therapy or trauma-informed care for incarcerated people with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

The mental health staff at Parchman also do not conduct “formal or regular treatment planning meetings” or keep complete records of incarcerated people’s mental health history. “Treatment goals appear to be cut and pasted to the next treatment plan without any documentation detailing the incarcerated person’s or clinician’s adjustments for progress,” the report says. 

Staff appear to over-rely on diagnosing incarcerated people with antisocial personality disorder or substance-induced disorders, the report found. “The high percentage of these diagnoses at Parchman is concerning because once these diagnoses are used, future providers are apt to be dismissive of legitimate mental health concerns,” the report says. 

The DOJ also found that Parchman keeps hundreds of incarcerated people in solitary confinement with “decrepit conditions” such as crumbling ceilings, showers without hot water, and pervasive mold. On average, Parchman keeps incarcerated people in solitary confinement for 515 days and sometimes for years. 

MDOC kept one incarcerated person in solitary confinement “since his arrival at Parchman in September 2001.” The report says this person never sought or was treated for mental health issues, but that in February 2021, he “began expressing suicidal ideation during the weekly restrictive housing rounds, which was captured in the clinician’s note as ‘Suicidal Ideation.’” 

Staff did not conduct a suicide risk assessment, and two weeks later, “he hung himself with a bedsheet.” In the week before his , he had been asking for relief from the “excessive heat on the unit,” which had reached as high as 145 degrees Fahrenheit, one of the officers told the DOJ. 

“When this officer asked if they could turn down the heat, unit supervisors advised not to do so,” the report says.  

After the DOJ announced its investigation in 2020, Gov. Tate Reeves said he was beginning the process of closing Unit 29 of the facility. He also appointed Burl Cain, who had overseen Angola Prison in Louisiana, as commissioner. 

Cain has said he will fix the conditions at Parchman and in other MDOC prisons. One effort that Cain has taken to address the violence at Parchman is participating in a “gang exchange program” with Colorado and other states. 

The DOJ specifically addressed that plan in the report: “While this tactic may have some limited effect, it falls far short of a comprehensive strategy. For example, when a gang leader is moved to an out-of-state correctional facility, a new gang leader will quickly emerge to replace the transferred one.” 

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Go to Top