Mississippi Hustle*

Last month a bombshell was dropped in Mississippi: the resignation of the Corrections Commissioner, Christopher Epps, was swiftly followed by his arraignment on charges of accepting bribes of over $1m from a business man and former sheriff’s deputy, Cecil McCrory. It is alleged that in return Epps arranged contracts for firms that were owned or advised by McCrory, which then operated within the Mississippi prison system.

The firms included GT Enterprises, which for a few months from 2007 to 2008 supplied commissary services to Mississippi state prisoners. Epps then approved the assignment of GT Enterprise’s commissary services to Centric Group (doing business as Keefe Commissary, LLC); the transaction resulted in a large profit for McCrory. The Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review (PEER) has expressed concerns about the Keefe Commissary’s operation.

Another Epps-approved company, AdminPros, paid McCrory as an advisor.  The company began monitoring healthcare at Mississippi state prisons in 2011 and at private prisons two years later, even though there were no medical or nursing professionals among its monitoring staff.

Lawsuits are pending targeting the East Mississippi Correctional Facility for mentally ill inmates and the poor treatment of juveniles at the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility. For Willie and others on death row there have also been problems: families and friends of inmates have reported that there is difficulty receiving medical care, poor food, inflated commissary prices, flooding (including raw sewage in cells), electrical fires, leaks in the roof and inadequate levels of personal safety.

Epps has been credited with dismantling an infamous solitary confinement unit at Mississippi State Penitentiary, and trying to scale back tough-on-crime sentencing laws. But if he is found guilty of the charges against him he will be remembered as someone who cared little about prisoners and prison staff, and much more about his own personal gain.

*The FBI has dubbed the investigation into Epps and McCrory the ‘Mississippi Hustle’.

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