Change needed at state prison system

Published 8:59 pm Friday, January 3, 2020

Though it’s unclear what exactly is happening in Mississippi’s prisons, it is clear that something needs to change.

A fifth inmate died violently in a Mississippi prison, as clashes between prisoners continue this week.

Sunflower County Coroner Heather Burton said 36-year-old Dennoris Howell was stabbed to death before dawn Friday at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. Howell is the fifth inmate to be killed by another inmate since Sunday, and the third at Parchman.

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Another inmate was stabbed in the 3 a.m. Friday incident and taken to a Memphis, Tennessee, hospital.

The violence has been described as gang related but state officials haven’t provided much information or confirmed the gang connection.

All state prisons remain on lockdown following the violence.

An investigation by a non-profit news organization last year described the prison system as plagued by gangs who have more control than guards.

Outgoing Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Pelicia Hall has acknowledged that a staffing shortage hinders her agency’s ability to run prisons, the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting said. Hall says the agency needs more funding.

Gangs reportedly decide where new inmates sleep, charge fees to new inmates and have declared control over phones and showers at one state prison.

“Inmates who want to sleep in the beds they were assigned are ‘breaking security’ and have to pay for the privilege. There are also fines for eating food without sharing or showering at the ‘wrong’ time. Inmates say they are forced to pay their debts with money, food, tasks (such as carrying contraband for the gangs) or Green Dots (an online currency used by inmates),” MCIR reported.

The state has for too long ignored these problems, and this week’s violence highlights the need for swift changes in the prison system.

State leaders, including the governor, owe it to residents — those locked up and those who are not — to find a long-term solution for these problems.

We encourage our local elected officials to push for change in the state’s prison system.