A society is measured by how it treats the least among it and the conditions of inmates are often met with callous oversight. Unfortunately, incidences are not often discussed, and some estimates place nearly 1 out of every 10 inmates experiencing some form of abuse. The tragic situation is made even more disappointing when the abused suffer from a mental or psychiatric condition.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported yesterday that it has filed a lawsuit against East Mississippi Correctional Facility (EMCF). The facility is responsible for the treatment and incarceration of prisoners with severe psychiatric disabilities. According to the ACLU’s post on the subject, the prison often neglected the prisoners and let dangerous conditions persist.
Prisoners, left in rat-infested squalor with no toilets or working lights, would be forced to set fires to garner the attention of guards. The prisoners are often abandoned, put in solitary confinement, and rape, beatings, stabbings and all manners of violence are commonplace.
The most recent lawsuit from the ACLU is by no means the first time that complaints of prisoner abuse in Mississippi have been made. Last year, a federal decree described a Mississippi juvenile prison as “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts.”
So who’s responsible for these abuses and the state of prisoner care in Mississippi? The Mississippi Department of Corrections and its commissioner Christopher B. Epps. Epps has been the recipient of bi-partisan appointments in his state and overseen what The New York Times called the “transformation of the Mississippi prison…”
According to The Times, it was during the prior lawsuit with the ACLU that the commissioner’s viewpoint on how prisoners should be treated changed. The allegations in the prior case shared common themes of prisoner abuse and desperate conditions and when prisoners caused problems, they were thrown in solitary confinement and forgotten.
“That was the culture, and I was part of it,” he said to The Times.
The commissioner’s view, however, changed over time, “If you treat people like animals, that’s exactly the way they’ll behave.”
The current lawsuit filed by the ACLU yesterday unfortunately is a sign that the lessons of old have not taken hold in Eastern Mississippi and there is again need to reform in the Mississippi prison system.
Joshua is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.