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SPLC Action calls for release of people from Mississippi prisons following first COVID-19 death

JACKSON, Miss. -- A person incarcerated at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman has died of COVID-19  —  the first known person in the state’s prison system to die from the virus.
 
To reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Mississippi prisons and jails, SPLC Action  has called on state officials to release people who are at high-risk of contracting the virus, including the elderly and those with medical conditions; those who are within a year of completing their sentences;  and those who are locked up for misdemeanor crimes and other non-violent offenses. State of Mississippi officials, however, have refused to release people from facilities that are severely understaffed, dirty and decrepit, and where social distancing is not an option.
 
The following is a statement from Jamila Virgil, Senior Fellow for SPLC Action in Mississippi:
 
“This death at Parchman is heartbreaking. For weeks, we’ve urged Governor Tate Reeves and the Mississippi Department of Corrections to significantly lower the prison population. Incarcerated people are highly vulnerable to outbreaks of contagious illnesses such as COVID-19. They are housed in close quarters and can’t practice social distancing. The best answer to public health and humanitarian concerns is to get people out. Neither Governor Reeves nor MDOC has taken action to reduce the prison population, and every day of continued inaction needlessly puts lives at risk. 
 
“There are almost certainly more people with COVID-19 in our prisons and jails who have not been tested. But the way to avoid infecting even more incarcerated people and facility employees is still to reduce the jail and prison population. This would decrease the likelihood of both an outbreak within a facility and the likelihood of spreading the disease outside the walls of prisons and jails.”
 
SPLC Action has also called for the release of people from prisons and jails in Florida, Louisiana and Alabama.