Conditions at a Mississippi prison go under the microscope as a class action lawsuit begins in federal court today.
No psychiatrists on staff, poor medical care and on-going violence are some of the issues cited by attorneys about the East Mississippi Correctional Facility in Meridian. Attorney Jody Owens with the Southern Poverty Law center is one of a group of lawyers suing the state department of corrections for what he calls extreme abuse and neglect. He says East Mississippi primarily houses mentally ill inmates and it's operated by the private firm, Management and Training Corporation. Owens says there's little mental health treatment.
"Prisoners are forced to be in cells where there have no lights, only electric wires. These individuals do a lot of self-harm, suffer from depression, bi-polar, schizophrenia. We have people who cut themselves routinely and we have individuals who are so sick for medical and mental healthcare they set fires hoping that will get someone's attention," said Owens.
Owens says there's little inmate oversight and the facility is understaffed. He notes four people have died in the last two months, some from drug overdoses and one choked on food. He says they've tried to resolve the problems without going to court, but conditions haven't improved. Private practicing Attorney Elizabeth Alexander is working on the case with Owens. She says the food inmates get is not nutritious and they don't get enough to eat, which has led to a black market because they're hungry.
"What I've seen at EMCF are conditions that I had not seen for decades in my litigation. This is a trip back to the old days of prison conditions," said Alexander.
In a statement the Mississippi Department of Correction said it's not the agency practice to discuss on-going litigation. The prison operator Management and Training Corporation said in a statement the facility is safe, clean and well-run.