JACKSON, Miss. – The Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into the Mississippi prison system after a string of inmate deaths in the last few months.
Federal prosecutors announced Wednesday that they are looking into conditions at four state prisons following the deaths of at least 15 inmates since late December.
The four prisons that will be probed are the Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman), Southern Mississippi Correctional Institute, Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, and the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility.
The investigation is examining whether state corrections officials are adequately protecting prisoners from physical harm and will also look into whether there are adequate health care and suicide prevention services.
Violence is a recurring problem in Mississippi prisons, where many jobs for guards are unfilled.
The investigation will be conducted under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA). Under CRIPA, the department has the authority to investigate violations of prisoners’ constitutional rights that result from a “pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of such rights.”
The department has conducted CRIPA investigations of many correctional systems, and where violations have been found, the resulting settlement agreements have led to important reforms.
The Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section is conducting the investigation, with support from the United States Attorney’s Offices for the Northern and Southern Districts of Mississippi.