18 inmates have died in Mississippi prisons since December 29, some as a result of violence. 10 of the deaths were at the state penitentiary at Parchman, where Willie Manning is incarcerated. State law requires death row to remain at Parchman.
Death row prisoners like Willie were not involved in any violence, but nonetheless their conditions worsened as the Mississippi Department of Corrections struggled to regain control during the disorder: death row was locked down along with the rest of the prison.
According to death row attorneys, meals were not delivered at mealtimes, and when food was eventually brought it was “cold and sparse: a single bologna sandwich, a half foam plastic cup of Cheerios and milk”. Medication and water bottles were not being delivered. Showering was not allowed, and there were problems with the toilets after a storm shut off electricity.
Death row is in Unit 29. Following a visit to Parchman, incoming Governor Tate Reed ordered parts of this unit to close; but the governor suggested that the condition of death row is acceptable and should remain in use.
However, last year the then Mississippi Department of Corrections commissioner, Pelicia Hall, appeared to contradict this when she wrote to lawmakers:
“[Unit 29], originally constructed in 1980 and renovated in 1996, has become unsafe for staff and inmates due to age and general deterioration.”
With Governor Reed describing himself as a “budget hawk”, it seems unlikely that conditions for death row will improve. We wish Willie the strength to survive.