Justice Department Finds Conditions at Mississippi State Penitentiary Violate the Constitution
The Justice Department concluded today, based upon a thorough investigation, that there is reasonable cause to believe that conditions and practices at the Mississippi State Penitentiary (also known as Parchman) violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Division, U.S. Attorney Clay Joyner for the Northern District of Mississippi and U.S. Attorney Darren J. LaMarca for the Southern District of Mississippi made the announcement.
Specifically, the department concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe Mississippi routinely violates the constitutional rights of people incarcerated at Parchman by:
- failing to provide adequate mental health treatment to people with serious mental health needs;
- failing to take sufficient suicide prevention measures to protect people at risk of self-harm;
- subjecting people to prolonged isolation in solitary confinement in egregious conditions that place their physical and mental health at substantial risk of serious harm; and
- failing to protect incarcerated people from violence at the hands of other incarcerated people.
As required by the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), the Justice Department provided the state of Mississippi with written notice of the supporting facts for these findings and the minimum remedial measures necessary to address them in a comprehensive 59-page findings letter.
“The Constitution guarantees that all people incarcerated in jails and prisons are treated humanely, that reasonable measures are taken to keep them safe, and that they receive necessary mental health care, treatment, and services to address their needs,” said Assistant Attorney General Clarke. “Our investigation uncovered evidence of systemic violations that have generated a violent and unsafe environment for people incarcerated at Parchman. We are committed to taking action that will ensure the safety of all people held at Parchman and other state prison facilities. We look forward to working with state officials to institute comprehensive reforms.”
“Prisons have a constitutional obligation to keep safe the incarcerated persons who depend on them for their basic needs,” said U.S. Attorney Joyner. “Mississippi violated the rights of persons incarcerated at Parchman by failing to keep them safe from physical violence and for failing to provide constitutionally adequate mental health care and that people confined to Parchman experience serious physical and psychological harm as a result. Our office is dedicated to defending the civil rights of all our district’s residents, including those who are incarcerated. We look forward to continuing to work with the Mississippi Department of Corrections to protect the civil rights of those incarcerated at Parchman.”
“The action taken today by the Department of Justice will ensure that the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman fulfills its constitutional obligations,” said U.S. Attorney LaMarca. “Those obligations extend to reasonable efforts to provide basic mental health care, prevent violence between incarcerated persons and prevent suicides. Those who owe a debt to society should have these basic needs while paying that debt. We are committed to working with state officials to ensure that the State of Mississippi abides by its constitutional obligations.”
The department’s investigation began in February 2020. Our investigation of conditions at Southern Mississippi Correctional Institution, Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, and Wilkinson County Correctional Facility is ongoing. Individuals with relevant information are encouraged to contact the department by phone at (833) 591-0288, or by email at Community.MSDoc@usdoj.gov.
For more information about the Civil Rights Division and the Special Litigation Section, please visit https://www.justice.gov/crt/special-litigation-section.
Additional information about the Northern and Southern U.S. Attorneys’ Offices is available at: https://www.justice.gov/usao-ndms and https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdms. You can contact the Northern District’s Civil Division at (662) 234-3318, and the Southern District at (601) 965-4480. You can also report civil rights violations to the Section by completing the complaint form available at https://civilrights.justice.gov/.