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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Paula

The horrible conditions described in this so-called prison reminds me of the horrible conditions that exist in a Russian Gulag.

Anonymous

Who owns this prison? I would like to know the owners and share holders names! Is Jeff Sessions a owner?

Anonymous

7 years!!!! I am outraged that these conditions have continued to exist 7 years after it was first documented. I don’t understand how this is allowed to continue while going through court proceedings. This is an extreme case, but mental health treatment in prisons all around this country is inhuman. It’s heartbreaking

Anonymous

Too common in our society.people who disregard another's rights and health need to be prosecuted the same as these inmates. Only then they might consider how it feels.

Anonymous

I worked in nursing home's, in Mississippi, and they were not any better. No one in custody in jail or a nursing home has anykind of rights. The inhumane treatment, is sickening. And for this to take 7 years, to get to court! I believe is just as insane as the people who hold them in these types of conditions. I believe these people should be owed a whole hell of a lot of money for the lost loved one's. And this chamber of horror's need's to be shut completely down. And those that are still in this, god forsaken place, in the mental ward, need to be taken to a mental hospital, and be treated for post traumatic stress. After all they have been through! They deserve all the help they can get. Criminal or not! No one deserves that sort of treatment. Animals get treatment better. And people, are more likely to complain about the treatment of animals, than criminals. But this! This! Has to be stopped!!!

WAYNE FARRIS

STOP ALLOWING BABIES BE BORN INTO THE MENTALLY ILL AND MENTALLY DERANGED 13 MENTAL ILLNESS HAS GENETIC CONNECTIONS 13 AND PROPER SCREENING OF THE MOTHER FOR POSSIBLE BIRTHS DEFECTS AND MENTAL DISORDERS SHOULD BE THE HIGHEST PRIORITY TO PREVENT SUCH LIFETIMES OF HORROR MISERY AND SUFFERING BY THIS BABY BY ANY MEANS MENTALITY SOCIETY 13 IF WE REALLY CARE ABOUT THE WELFARE OF A NEW BORNE BABY 13 AND IF SOMEONE IS IN A STATE OF CONSTANT TOREMENT 13 THE STATE NEEDS NEEDS TO IMPLIMENT BETTER DRUG TREATMENT TO HELP SUDATE ILL MANNERED BEHAVIOR TO PROTECT THE INCARCERATED AND THE INCARCERATORS 13

Anonymous

That’s called Eugenics, what the Nazis practiced. Look it uo

Talee DeLahunt

You are what's wrong with this world. You don't get to deem someone's life to be without value, just because you don't like their existence. That's some Hitler crap, right there. That's the whole point being made against this facility and those like it. You should have been aborted, by your own standards. You talk about screenings for mental illnesses, but what about for narcissists, like yourself? You do realize that's a mental illness, right? Your ignorance is so sad. Why didn't your parents teach you right from wrong? Did they despise you so much that they wanted you to suffer and be despised your whole life? The issue in this article is the obvious inhumane treatment of people who have no choice and no voice. Your comment makes it clear that you are not against such treatment. Rather it seems to show that you detest their mere existence. You seem to think that the victims should be punished rather than their abusers. That says a lot about you and how you were raised. Makes me wonder if you have ever been made to take responsibility for your own actions. The 'all caps' approach to your comment indicates that you are highly offended by the mere existence of people that don't meet your standards and the wording shows a lack of basic human decency. As though your existence is far more superior. Let me be the first to tell you, the value of these inmates and all mentally ill people, far outweighs the value of a hateful, self-righteous, hypocritic, who wants to kill innocent babies before they are born, to suit their own neo-nazi supremacist beliefs, like yourself. Your existence concerns me far more than these inmates and the mentally ill ever will. At least we know what we are dealing with from them. You are far more likely to commit outrageous abuses and mass murders, than they are. Yet, you wear a mask that would hide your black heart, if it weren't for your loud mouth.
These people deserve to be treated with basic human decency. These people should not be tortured everyday by these conditions. They were not sentenced to death. They were not sentenced to have a limb removed. That would be cruel and unusual punishment. They do not deserve to die slow, agonizing deaths in prisons, that make millions of tax payer dollars every year. This is not a issue of what crimes were committed by the inmates. It's about the crimes that are committed against them everyday. I wish I could put you in this evil place for just one year. You would lose what little bit of a mind you have, in a matter of months...maybe weeks. You are a sick individual, who needs to be put in a facility, yourself. If for no other reason than to protect society from the potential violence your hateful beliefs are sure to lead you to commit. I'm short....your mother should have swallowed!!!

Anonymous

The Sacramento, Can jail is just as bad. In mates are not allowed to be given antibiotics if they have an infection. The cells and showers are never cleaned. Any depressed, suicidal, or hallucinating gets put in a long straight jacket then put in a room with no toilet, just a matter on the floor. They aren't fed or given water for 3 days and not allowed to use a bathroom. They have to pee and poop all over themselves and the room then sleep in it.

Anonymous

My husband is an inmate there, he's there because he's a diabetic, however they never check his glucose, he's had to ask them to do it. This is a medical facility?

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