JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Mississippi leaders are taking steps to improve conditions at Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.
Governor Tate Reeves held a press conference Thursday to discuss the changes to the system.
Reeves laid out a number of steps he said Interim Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Tommy Taylor has taken since taking office. Those include:
- Improving conditions: Maintenance teams from across the state of Mississippi have been deployed to immediately begin work to improve conditions at Parchman.
- Bringing leadership to the front lines: All Wardens and Deputy Wardens have been placed on twelve hour shifts to have leadership present and available to corrections officers at all times. A senior officer will not be present on grounds at all times.
- Cracking down on contraband cell phones: During the recent series of killings, gangs were able to coordinate across the prison system through the use of contraband cell phones. This allowed one isolated incident to escalate into large-scale conflict that culminated in several deaths. The Managed Access System which blocks the signal of contraband cell phones is now being used at every Parchman housing unit.
- Fixing guard screening: In order to prevent corrections officers from assisting prisoners in violence, a tragic reality of the current circumstances, officers will be screened for signs of Security Threat Group (gang) affiliation.
- Relocating prisoners: Prisoners will be re-distributed throughout the prison--assigned to different jobs and housed in difference facilities--to prevent the outbreak of additional violence.
- Investigating criminal activity: An agent has been deployed to Parchman to conduct a wide-ranging investigation into criminal activity within the Department of Corrections or by prisoners.
- Increasing transparency: MDOC staff have been instructed to proactively provide as much information to the public as possible, as quickly as possible, about deadly incidents in the system.
Four other inmates have died at Parchman since the beginning of the new year.
Reeves personally visited Parchman on Thursday.
“There is a leadership crisis in our prison system," he said. “For too long, there has not been accountability. There has not been a steady hand on the wheel. I am grateful that Commissioner Taylor is beginning to make progress. These problems did not spring up overnight, and they will not be solved overnight, but the necessary work has begun. The lives and dignity of all within this system must be protected.”
Last week, Reeves announced the formation of a search committee to find a permanent commissioner for Mississippi Department of Corrections.