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Statement on U.S. Department of Justice Announcement of Investigation of Mississippi Prisons

Statement of Lisa Graybill, deputy legal director, Southern Poverty Law Center

JACKSON, Mississippi — “Mississippi’s prisons have a brutal history rooted in slavery and convict leasing, and it is time for the federal government to step in and do what the Mississippi Department of Corrections has failed to: end the violence and ensure humane living conditions.  Dozens have died and hundred of others live in squalid conditions with standing sewage in freezing temperatures as a result of  the Mississippi's neglect.  Mississippi’s prisons are overcrowded, understaffed, and aren’t safe for anyone. 

Mississippi Department of Corrections needs to address these problems as quickly as possible.  The legislature needs to look closely at how to safely reduce its prison population and end its addiction to mass incarceration.”   

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Last month, Mississippi civil justice advocates and Rep. Bennie Thompson sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) asking for the agency to begin an immediate investigation into the Mississippi Department of Corrections’ (MDOC) practice of incarcerating more people than it employs guards to keep people safe.  The letter cites the outbreak of violence, the deaths of five men in ten days, escapes, and dozens of injuries as the evidence that MDOC has overincarcerated and understaffed its prison system for years.