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Activist group Until Freedom demands Mississippi shut down Parchman prison

Ms. Sharon of the Mississippi Prison Reform Project (with bullhorn) spoke during a recent rally outside the Mississippi State Capitol building. Behind her holding signs are (left to right) Angelo Pinto, Mysonne Linen, Yandy Smith-Harris and Tamika Mallory, who are with the activist group Until Freedom. (Photo by Lerae Funderburg for Steed Media)

Where does it state in the U.S. Constitution that prisoners are no longer human? At what point does the law provide exclusions that effectively subject inmates to inhumane conditions based on the fact that they have committed a crime? And what legislation was passed that made it lawful to punish family members of those who are convicted?

The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution specifically forbids legally sanctioned cruel and unusual punishment. The prison system was invented for the sole purpose of protecting the public from violent offenders while also rehabilitating them so that they may return to the general population and become productive members of society.

While to outsiders those who are incarcerated may be viewed as criminals, they are also someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, cousin, nephew, son, daughter or friend. The people who know and love them didn’t break the law and shouldn’t have to serve a prison sentence with them.

Parchman prison

But this is America. This is Mississippi. This is the state of affairs that our country and our people are currently living in – with no resolution forthcoming even though the solution is simple. An immediate one is, anyway. Fund the prison system.

In a letter to the Mississippi attorney general, several individuals and organizations, including U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Southern Poverty Law Center, University of Mississippi Law School, Mississippi NAACP executive director Corey Wiggins, Mississippi Center for Justice and others, raised concerns about conditions plaguing the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

They noted that funding for the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman has decreased by $185 million since 2014 and is slated to continue to decrease for the 2020-2022 budget.

Mississippi prisons are severely understaffed. At Parchman, the prison at the forefront of the most recent acts of reported violence, deaths and inhumane conditions, only 261 of 512 mandatory staffed positions required to fully operate the facility have been filled.

A little more than half of the necessary staff is at the facility on a daily basis, while the inmates are almost at capacity for what’s allowed in the prison. This results in inmates spending the bulk of their days in solitary confinement without food, water, light, access to the rehabilitative programs or the outside world.

Mississippi state corrections officers are paid the lowest in the nation, with Parchman the absolute lowest of all. Officers there receive an entry-level salary of $24,900. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a family household of four with a total income of $25,750 is considered to be living in poverty.

Can you imagine what it would be like to risk your life day in and day out in substandard conditions, frequently working overtime and pulling double shifts, and being subjected to violence or the threat of violence while maintaining a life below the poverty line? What incentive would you have to do what is right? Or would you show up and do whatever you needed to do to survive?

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