The East Mississippi Correctional Facility Is 'Hell on Earth'

At the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, where Mississippi sends some of the most seriously mentally ill people in the state prison system, even the most troubled patients are routinely ignored and the worst cases of self-harm are treated with certain neglect. The conditions at EMCF have cost some prisoners their limbs, their eyesight, and even their lives.

In 2013, the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, and prisoner rights attorney Elizabeth Alexander filed a class-action complaint on behalf of all the prisoners held at EMCF. As the case heated up, the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP joined as co-counsel, providing major staffing and support. Despite years of attempts by Mississippi to derail the lawsuit before our clients even saw the inside of the courtroom, the case will finally proceed to trial Monday.

The lawsuit against EMCF describes horrific conditions at the facility: rampant violence, including by staff against prisoners; solitary confinement used to excess, with particular harm to prisoners with mental illnesses; and filthy cells and showers that lack functional toilets or lights. It also sheds light on a dysfunctional medical and mental healthcare delivery system that puts patients at risk of serious injury and has contributed to deaths in custody.

Nowhere was this institutionalized neglect more clear than in the life, and death, of T.H., a patient at EMCF with a history of severe mental illness and self-harm. On Jan. 31, 2016, T.H. stuck glass into his arm. Instead of sending him to the emergency room, a nurse merely cleaned the wound with soap and water. The following day, he broke a light bulb and inserted the shards into his arm. This time he required eight stitches.

Less than two weeks later, he cut himself with a blade hidden in his cell and then tried to hang himself. It was only later that month, after he reopened his arm wound with more glass, that mental health staff finally placed him on special psychiatric observation status.

Yet, because he wasn’t properly monitored, T.H.’s series of self-injury continued unabated until April 4, 2016. Early that afternoon, he stuck his arm, dripping in blood, through a slot in his cell door and asked to see the warden. A lieutenant saw T.H.’s bloodied arm, but, rather than call for emergency assistance, simply left the area. Two hours later, T.H. was observed unresponsive on the floor of his cell.

E. Mississippi Correctional Blood on the Door

In response, the prison warden opted to call for a K-9 team to enter the cell with dogs before letting medical professionals examine the patient. By then it was too late — T.H. was dead, having strangled himself with materials from inside his cell. He never once had a proper suicide risk assessment or any treatment to address his self-harm.

The lackadaisical and unconstitutional approach that EMCF staff takes toward prisoner healthcare cost T.H. his life and has caused well-documented suffering among countless other mentally ill prisoners. And it all happens in the context of a prison rife with violence, where security staff often react with excessive force to mental health crises and allow prison gangs to control access to necessities of life, including at times food.

The Constitution requires that if the state takes someone into custody, it must also take on the responsibility of providing treatment for their serious medical and mental health needs. This means, among other measures, hiring qualified medical staff to provide necessary care for people with mental health disorders, creating systems for access to care so sick patients can see a mental health or medical clinician, and making sure that medical care is provided without security staff impeding it.

The ACLU and our co-counsel are fighting to ensure that such care is available at EMCF, where the state of Mississippi has continued to lock some of the most vulnerable prisoners in dangerous and filthy conditions and deny them access to constitutionally required mental health and medical care.

I witnessed those conditions firsthand when I visited EMCF in January 2011 with fellow ACLU attorney Gabriel Eber and two medical and mental health experts. At that time, we were horrified to discover that Mississippi’s designated mental health prison was closer to a vision of hell on earth than a therapeutic treatment facility.

E. Mississippi Correctional Medical Facility

When I walked into one of the solitary confinement units, the entire place reeked of smoke from recent fires. I tried to speak to patients about their experiences, but I could barely hear them over the sounds of others moaning and screaming while they slammed their hands into metal cell doors.

Despite repeated warnings from nationally renowned experts brought in to assess conditions at the prisons, a meeting with top Mississippi Department of Corrections officials, and an offer by the ACLU to help MDOC pay to diagnose and fix the problems at EMCF, Mississippi officials permitted these conditions to continue unabated. Rather than take responsibility for fixing this prison, these officials merely switched contractors. In 2012, they swapped out private prison giant GEO Group, Inc. and replaced them with another private prison company, Management & Training Corp., which is perhaps best known for its horrific record of abusing and neglecting immigrant detainees. The state has also switched prison medical contractors multiple times, with little improvement from one to the next.

But the nightmare might soon be over. Over seven years since we first visited the cesspool that is EMCF, our clients will be allowed in court for the first time, asking that their constitutional rights finally be recognized. That recognition won’t undo the great harms they’ve suffered. But by fulfilling the Constitution's promise of protection, we can stop new harms and horrors at EMCF, of which there have been too many for too long.

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Anonymous

Same one that requires a driver's license? Not all laws were addressed in constitution.

Anonymous

You are an ass

Anonymous

This is worse than, I think, most Americans can even imagine. It is a combination of punishment in the Third Reich and dungeons of the Middle Ages. One has to ask about people who work in this bedlam...how ignorant and deficient in humanity must they be, to have said and done NOTHING, to put an end to this place and its practices!

Anonymous

I am neither ignorant nor deficient in humanity. I am seeing first hand similar abuses and neglect in a prison I have been employed at only since Nov 2017. I am a nurse on probation for one year. Even the simplest things I've done that are basic nursing have been looked upon as "being too nice" to the inmates or perceived as Me trying to make coworkers look bad because they aren't doing the same. Ex providing alcohol swabs for fingerstivks and insulin injections....and trimming and scrubbing the nails and hands of 2 elderly men.
I've heard that the neglect if inmates and the targeting of certain staff members like me, has been going on for years.
An inmate died in his bed due to neglect .
An inmate with complaints of chest pain forced to walk to medical instead of an emergency response team going to him.
Infected wounds left undiagnosed and treated with just bandages.
Bone and joint Contractures due to no physical therapy.
I could go on and on.
The pint is this. I care and so do a few others.
Management only cares about covering their asses.
This is not a private prison.
It is State run in Ohio. Pickaway Corrections aka Frazier.
Oh and pain control? Stage 4 cancer gets T3 and Ultram......minimal doses which means, very little pain control.
Management cares so little and I have now become a target and receive corrective counselling at least once a week.
Insane accusations that have little basis in reality....and some that are just because I'm new and didn't realize the procedures.....yet other staff do the same and no write ups.
I won't be staying.
My BP 178/116 tonight after yet another "fun" conversation with the supervisor.
We have enough concerns working with criminals but they aren't the problem 95% of the time. It's coworkers and staff. Lord knows the pay is not worth my health! As much as I wish I could stay and make a difference.

MATTHEW NAIDOW

Please know that many good people work in prisons across America but only some like myself are not afraid to speak out about atrocities like I Have. Look it up. He'll Without The Fire.

Maureen

I hear you I too spent a number of years working at various State Prisons in CA and the Com's always think I did too much and all I was doing was nursing 101 the basics

Anonymous

My state always finds new ways to disappoint me

Anonymous

MS summed up in one sentence

MATTHEW NAIDOW

I worked there for almost 4 years first for GEO then MTC. I testified to the conditions there for the ACLU and SPLC. Worst I Have Ever Seen. Glad this is now in court. #Theprisonersoflostgap, my new book coming soon.

Anonymous

And prisons are still being beaten and raped by other prisons. I know, my sons one. Swept under the rug. Hidden because they don't want it known its still going on in this drug infested hell.

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