JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Another Mississippi inmate died in a troubled state prison Wednesday, and state corrections officials said his death appeared to be a suicide by hanging.
At least 10 inmates have died in the state’s prisons since late December, most of them in outbursts of violence. Eight of the men died in the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, including the one Wednesday.
Another Parchman inmate was found dead Saturday hanging in a cell that investigators said was locked from the inside. Authorities have not yet said whether they believe that, too, was a suicide.
The state Department of Corrections did not immediately release the name of the inmate found dead Wednesday because officials were working to notify his family. He was in a single-person cell.
Mississippi’s new governor, Republican Tate Reeves, was inaugurated Jan. 14. Two days later, he appointed an interim leader to replace the corrections commissioner who resigned when the previous governor left office. Reeves also appointed a group to conduct a nationwide search for a new commissioner. Reeves said violence in the prisons has been a “catastrophe.”
Violence is a recurring problem in Mississippi prisons, where many jobs for guards are unfilled. Health department inspections also show Parchman has longstanding problems with broken sinks and toilets in cells, holes in cell walls, widespread mold and mildew in showers and sanitation problems in kitchens.
More than two dozen inmates sued the state Jan. 14, saying understaffed prisons are “plagued by violence” and inmates are forced to live in decrepit and dangerous conditions. Entertainers Jay-Z and Yo Gotti are paying for the attorneys in the case, a spokesperson for the two confirmed. All of the plaintiffs have been inmates at Parchman.
Jay-Z’s charity group, Team Roc, is urging people to gather Friday at the Mississippi Capitol to protest conditions in the state prison system. But the legislators who have the power to change the system won’t be around to hear them.
Members of the Mississippi House and Senate began their annual session in early January, but few bills have been filed. For the second week in a row, legislators plan to leave the Capitol for the weekend on Thursday.
On behalf of Roc Nation, rapper Yo Gotti on Wednesday published an open letter to Mississippi’s governor about prison conditions.
“The humanitarian crisis that is unfolding in Mississippi today … is as immoral as it is counter-productive,” said the letter. “For if a goal of incarceration is rehabilitation, how can we ever hope to return these men to society when the extreme neglect and dangerous conditions under which they are subjected strips away every last bit of self-worth?”
The letter appeared in print editions of the Clarion Ledger newspaper. Team Roc is also paying for a billboard near the state Capitol with the message: “Fix Your Prisons.” Neither Jay-Z nor Yo Gotti will attend the rally Friday, but a spokesperson said Team Roc could sent another representative.
Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.