Southern Poverty Law Center Attorney Jody Owens says it's somewhat shocking that the Mississippi Department of Corrections is appealing a federal judge's decision to maintain court oversight of the Walnut Grove prison. Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves issued the ruling and cited pervasive gang violence, staff corruption and deliberate indifference evidenced by cell doors that don't lock, as concerns. Jody Owens.
"When we say we think it's a waste of taxpayers dollars. We're not saying that from just a legalese stand point. We're in the facility. Everyday that we're there, we're meeting with people. We're going down the check list. We're asking them and we hope for improvement," said Owens.
Court oversight of the prison is a part of a federal lawsuit settlement reached with MDOC to reduce violence at the facility. The corrections department and MTC, which pays for its own attorneys, argued in a hearing that the issues raised by the lawsuit have been addressed. Judge Reeves noted that MTC reduced the prison population, moved inmates that required stricter supervision, and installed some security measures. But he wrote more must be done to protect the inmates from harm. Owens is concerned about the long term impact on inmates and the communities they return to.
"Because we cannot lock them, throw away the key and think they're going to be normal functioning individuals when they get out," said Owens.
A spokesperson with the Mississippi Department of Corrections said "they will let the appeal speak for itself." Until a decision is reached, court oversight remains in effect.