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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Blog Archive - September 02, 2007 "Conditions at Unit 32"

Though most people are just learning of them, the conditions at Unit 32 of Mississippi's State Penitentiary at Parchman and the problems that are making it into the news didn't crop up recently. They aren't going to be cured quickly, either. Violations of Constitutional Rights can be considered a tradition at Parchman. A tradition that is alive and well.

In the June 10th, 2007 issue of Mississippi's Clarion-Ledger, Commissioner Christopher Epps made the comment that  "the ACLU hasn't got a clue about running a prison." Unfortunately, neither does the Mississippi Department of Corrections. The difference is that the ACLU hires experts to advise them on matters outside their experience. MDOC should follow their example.

From GATES v. COLLIER in 1971, to GATES v. COOK in 2000, to RUSSELL v. JOHNSON in 2002, to the current case of PRESLEY v. EPPS, MDOC has a longstanding history in requiring the courts to step in and direct them in how to run their prisons. Specifically, Parchman. I think it's quite clear who doesn't have a clue about running a prison.

In the GATES v. COLLIER case, the Courts held that the conditions and practices in the maintenance, operation, and administration of Parchman deprived inmates of rights secured by the First, Eighth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendments. A consultant committee engaged by the Mississippi State Planning Agency, the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration and the American Correctional Association concluded that the conditions during the case were "Philosophically, Psychologically, Physically, Racially, and Morally Intolerable." This sounds to me, from seven years experience, to be an accurate description of current conditions. Same place, same problem, same mindset.

Take a moment to consider this. The prisoners in Unit 32 are labeled the worst in the system, and nearly half will be released in the next seven years. The "Watermelon Heads" , "Fruitcakes", and "Parasites" as Mr. Epps refers to us, are no laughing matter. That the Commissioner of MDOC would thus refer to his wards gives an eye-opening glimpse into the attitude of MDOC as a whole. In seven years these prisoners won't be Mr. Epps' problem anymore. They'll be yours--the public's. And since Mr. Epps said that teaching prisoners is part of his job, you'll get to see just how well he's doing that job and what it is they're learning.

Speaking before the Commission on Safety and Abuse In America's Prison's in April of 2005, Dr. Donald Cabana, Chair of the Criminal Justice Department at the University of Southern Mississippi, said that recruitment and retention of better paid, better educated, and better trained staff, with a greater emphasis on effective classification are just some of the things that need to be addressed if substantial improvements are to be made. I agree with Dr. Cabana in what he states as the most important issue in addressing these concerns: Administrative Accountability. Dr. Cabana said, "There simply must be an effective way to hold prison officials accountable for the actions of staff."

In the meantime, incidents like the stabbing deaths of Boris Harper and Donald Reed Jr. will continue to be the rule and not the exception. These are my examples of a system that has failed miserably. Seven years and counting...

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About Steven

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Steven Farris is a prisoner who has been incarcerated since a month after his 16th birthday in 1998. Currently serving a life sentence without the possibility for parole, he is seeking to educate the public about the true nature of prison and the widespread and negative effects of the prison industrial complex. Steven has worked with both the National Prison Project of the ACLU, as well as the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in furthering this effort.

You can contact him directly at:
Steven Farris #R5580
P.O. Box 1889
Woodville, MS 39669-1889

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