Jackson, Miss.—Lawyers for the Southern Poverty Law Center, in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council, are urging Mississippi lawmakers and officials to take swift action to address violations of environmental laws at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, which deprive incarcerated people of clean drinking water and pollute public waterways.
In a letter sent to officials, the organizations detail violations of the federal Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act that have occurred repeatedly for years, threatening the health of those incarcerated at Parchman and the communities surrounding Parchman.
“Access to clean drinking water is a basic human right. Yet for years, people incarcerated at Parchman have had no choice but to consume the foul-tasting, smelly, and potentially contaminated drinking water MDOC chooses to provide. The state has long been on notice for its violations of environmental laws, but it drags its feet,” said Vidhi Bamzai, staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “As usual, the human beings in MDOC's custody suffer the indignity of these consequences and are forced to use water that no state official would ever sip. The state must act now to remedy this.”
The SPLC and Natural Resources Defense Council urge the Mississippi Department of Corrections, Mississippi State Department of Health, and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality to promptly investigate and fix the root causes of Parchman’s long-standing water issues and to develop and monitor water quality and comply with pollution limits in its wastewater permit, while also making information available to incarcerated people and to the public.
The Safe Drinking Water Act regulates the provision of drinking water to people incarcerated at Parchman. Since at least 2016, Parchman has repeatedly violated this law, including by failing for years to fix inoperable controls on its wells needed to ensure that water is appropriately chlorinated to protect against microbial contaminants, to monitor drinking water quality, and to provide people incarcerated at Parchman with notice of violations of federal water standards and required public education materials.
The Clean Water Act regulates the discharge of wastewater into rivers and other waterbodies to protect and preserve the health of the nation’s waters. Since 2016, Parchman has routinely exceeded the permitted amounts of pollutants in the water it discharges into waterways. The contamination in Parchman’s wastewater may harm and cause the migration of fish and other aquatic animals, and may indicate the presence of disease-causing organisms that can affect people in the community that use the surrounding waterways.
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