There has been shock and horror in Mississippi and beyond at the deaths of five Mississippi prison inmates in less than a week. Three of the deaths were at the state penitentiary at Parchman, the prison where Willie Manning is held. The three young men who died were:
January 1: Walter Gates, 25, who died in a riot
January 2: Roosevelt Holliman, 32, stabbed in a gang-related riot
January 3: Denorris Howell, 36, killed during a fight with his cellmate
Other men were injured.
Death row, where Willie Manning is imprisoned, has not been directly affected by the violence; but inmates have been on lockdown and must be aware of the tension, and of the additional patrols in place.
Despite continuing safety and health problems at Parchman, its funding has been reduced. And at the end of 2019 the number of correctional officers employed by the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) was fewer than half of those employed five years earlier.
Prisoner advocates, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, have asked the federal government to investigate Mississippi’s prison system regarding possible civil rights violations. They assert:
“Mississippi has acknowledged the danger presented by severe understaffing and horrific conditions, but has repeatedly failed to take appropriate action.”
The “absolutely inhumane and unconstitutional” conditions have also drawn the attention of the rapper Jay-Z and hip-hop artist Yo Gotti: they have threatened to sue Mississippi unless conditions are improved. Their letter to Governor, Phil Bryant, and the MDOC Commisioner, Pelicia Hall, describes inmates who “are forced to live in squalor, with rats that crawl over them as they sleep on the floor, having been denied even a mattress for a cot.”
A lawyer for Jay-Z and Yo Gotti’s company commented:
“I just think it’s troubling where you have people, predominantly African American, who are locked inside cages where they don’t have a voice to be heard and are essentially the forgotten. It strikes us that there has to be a spotlight on this, otherwise we might not even be scratching the surface of the horror going on inside these prisons.”
Let us hope that legal action will at last secure proper funding to end the disgraceful neglect of Mississippi’s prisoners.