The First Step to Fix a Broken Prison? Set the Record Straight

Over the last couple weeks, we've been talking a lot about East Mississippi Correctional Facility, a violent and dangerously understaffed prison where patients with severe mental illnesses go without basic mental health care and many prisoners cut themselves or attempt suicide. The ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Law Offices of Elizabeth Alexander recently filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of the more than 1,100 prisoners confined at EMCF.

The prisoners at EMCF allege that they are denied adequate medical and mental health care and are subjected to uncontrolled violence, excessive force, filthy and dangerous conditions, insufficient nutrition, and inhumane solitary confinement.

We filed the lawsuit after a lengthy investigation, assessments by two correctional health care experts, and attempts to work with Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) to improve conditions without the need for litigation. Private, for-profit contractors MTC and Health Assurance operate the prison and provide health care services, respectively, but it is MDOC that is responsible for ensuring that conditions of confinement meet Constitutional standards.

Although the complaint is 83 pages of detailed allegations and legal formulations, the goal of the lawsuit is simple: to turn a broken institution into a safe and secure environment where seriously mentally ill prisoners can receive treatment before returning to the community at the end of their sentences.

On Thursday, MDOC issued its first written response to the lawsuit in the form of a press release. Although the press release states that "it is the agency's policy to let the facts play out in court," it proceeds to lay out facts – "facts" that require correction:

  • "When MDOC has been made aware of problems, it has responded accordingly."
    Not the case. The allegations in the lawsuit are nothing new: they have been brought to the department's attention for at least the last two years by multiple experts, internal investigations, MDOC employees, civil rights groups, and the prisoners themselves. Yet conditions at EMCF remain dangerous and unconstitutional.
  • "[MDOC] does not knowingly ignore informed and sound requests for solutions."
    More than a year before the lawsuit was filed, we joined SPLC to send a letter to the department outlining the problems at EMCF. We proposed a solution: the ACLU and SPLC would pay for a team of experts to assess conditions at EMCF and issue recommendations. These recommendations would form the basis for a settlement agreement, thus eliminating the need for years of litigation. MDOC acknowledged receipt of the letter and, shortly after, rejected our proposal.
  • "The plaintiffs indicated they were happy when [private prison contractor] MTC was hired. Now they indicate that they want the current operator fired."
    Certainly, the departure of the previous contractor was a positive step. But, as stated in our letter to MDOC and later in a letter published in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, "a new prison vendor may bring in new faces to the facility, but will do nothing to fix the department's ongoing lack of oversight of EMCF."

The press release wasn't entirely inaccurate, though. In fact, with respect to the most important statement, the press release got it right:

  • "The mere fact that MDOC has settled prior litigation with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) shows its willingness to sit at the table to listen, to do what is right, based on facts."
    On this point, we are in complete agreement. MDOC has come to the table to listen, do what is right, and settle prior litigation involving other facilities. We hope the same will be true for East Mississippi Correctional Facility.

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Hopefully this lawsuit is the first domino to fall that not only exposes the local, state and federal elected officials who allowed these private prisons here in Mississippi to operate without oversight but also exposes MDOC Commissioner Christopher Epps (who the lawsuit is filed against) and holds him ACCOUNTABLE. This is the same Epps who allowed Walnut Grove to operate as a war zone until the FEDS stepped in. Then he allows MTC (another private prison company) to take it over as well as EMCF. Bear in mind that the OBVIOUS conflict of interest that takes places when Epps, the current MDOC commissioner, is also the president of the American Correctional Association which uses PRIVATE PRISONS officials to grade these facilities

Please sign my petition so that these officials can be held ACCOUNTABLE for their actions not only at EMCF but all the private prisons they allow to operate like this.


I worked at the facility several years ago. I walked out due to the working conditions. The inmates were denied reasonable medical care. Many did not get the proper medications due to the fact that it had not been ordered. Inmates were refused access to medical by nurses as well as some officers. The inmate on inmate attacks were some of the worst that I had seen. The officers were either afraid of the inmates or best friends with them. The majority of the inmates had cell phones. I cannot count the number of times that inmates attempted to slip me their numbers. I also cannot count the number of times that inmates came to the pill line and they were high. There were female officers having sexual relationships with inmates. Where I'm from charges would be filed against the officers and they would be terminated. Not at this facility. Officers, nurses and nurse administrators were bringing in cell phones and drug to the inmates. A lot of the officers were gang affiliated and took the job just to help other gang members. On numerous occasions I was threatened with rape and the officer was standing there and said and did nothing. I attempted to provide proper medical care and was harassed at every turn by other medical staff. It was traumatizing in a lot of ways. I lasted all of 2-3 weeks before I walked away. I do not know how it is operating under the new contract but if they kept the same medical staff then the inmate are still not getting medical attention because these nurses are not properly trained to deal with real emergencies, they refuse medical attention to inmates seeking it, they "borrow" medications from other inmates in order to give it to another inmate, one was even selling medications off the med cart. It's was a place of hell for me and I could not stay

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