Governor Tate Reeves visited the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman on Thursday to personally inspect the conditions and speak with the Mississippians there.
He was joined by Interim Corrections Commissioner Tommy Taylor and Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs, who has been asked to lead a group of experienced, diverse Mississippi leaders conducting a nationwide search for a permanent head of the troubled Department.
Governor Reeves briefed the media on the conditions that he observed and steps that have been taken in the new leadership’s first week on the job to restore immediate order at Parchman, following a recent surge in violence that culminated in several deaths.
“There is a leadership crisis in our prison system. 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,” said Governor Reeves.
Since Commissioner Taylor’s first day on Monday, several important changes have already been implemented to protect the safety of officers and prisoners. They are aimed at addressing the administration’s immediate priority: restoring order at Parchman to prevent further needless death.
- 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 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 utilized 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 different facilities—to prevent the outbreak of additional violence.
- Increased transparency: MDOC staff have been instructed to provide as much information to the public as possible, as quickly as possible, about deadly incidents in the system.
Governor Reeves previously announced that he was deploying an agent from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations to Parchman in order to conduct a criminal investigation, which will be wide-ranging and attempt to root out any criminal activity by prisoners or employees. That individual has been selected and is being deployed immediately.
As the work to prevent violence in the immediate future is underway, Governor Reeves and the new leadership at the Mississippi Department of Corrections are turning an eye towards the future. In addition to his Parchman visit, Governor Reeves toured the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility. Discussions regarding the status of prisoners at Parchman are ongoing, and no final determination for a long-term solution has been made yet. All options are on the table.
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