Families of prisoners in the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman say they are worried about their loved ones after a recent string of fatal fights among inmates. As MPB's Ashley Norwood reports, state prison systems remain on lock down.
In the last week, 5 inmates have been killed and several injured by other inmates during major disturbances at prisons in Mississippi. Three of the deaths occurred at Parchman, where two prisoners escaped over the weekend. Both escapees have since been caught.
At a recent press event, a reporter asked Governor Phil Bryant "who's responsible for what's happening in Mississippi's prisons?" He says...
"The inmates... The inmates are the ones that take each others lives. The inmates are the ones that fashion weapons out of metal. The inmates are the ones that do the damage to the very rooms they are living in," said Bryant.
In a press release, Mississippi Department of Corrections' outgoing Commissioner Pelicia Hall says investigators have been pursuing leads to determine what sparked the violence- confirming that some disturbances were gang-related.
Lisa Graybill is the Deputy Legal Director of the Southern Poverty Law Center. She says the reason you see gangs operating prisons isn't necessarily because the inmates are violent.
"You see that a number of the folks who have died were incarcerated for non-violent offenses. It is because in a vacuum of leadership, gangs will battle for that control because someone is going to run the facility and at the end of the day that is absolutely the government's job. The government is just failing spectacularly to do so," said Graybill.
The department of corrections is referring to this unrest as "trying times." But for families of individuals incarcerated in Mississippi's prison systems, it's especially difficult.
Dora Wolfe of Terry says she's been on edge since Parchman locked down more than a week ago. Her son is currently an inmate.
"With him being locked up it has really been just horrifying for me because I'm afraid of him being killed there," said Wolfe.
Wolfe says she can't help but think about the time her son was almost fatally stabbed at another facility last year before he was transferred to Parchman.
During the lock down, visitors aren't allowed to see their loved ones. Wolfe says it's even been difficult to call and confirm her son is unharmed.
"He was able to place a call to me to let me know that he was okay. But he said that it's been terrible up there. He says the environment is terrible. It's just a bad atmosphere for him and I'll be so glad when he come home," said Wolfe.
Mississippi lawmakers will gavel in to a new legislative session today.
Christopher Bell is a Democratic Representative from Jackson. He says prison officials have warned legislators for awhile that they needed money to hire more guards and pay them better or else the state's prison system could experience such turmoil.
"First and foremost we gone have to give them the amount of money that they need. As the former Commissioner Pelecia Hall had requested for several years since I've been here I know she's requested monies that for some reason had been cut out of her budget. That's first and foremost. Second, it has to gain control of those prisons," said Bell.
Republican Tate Reeves is completing his second term as Lieutenant Governor. The governor - elect will be sworn in January 14.
"We're certainly going to be continuing to look at opportunities to invest Mississippi's tax dollars in a responsible and appropriate way and so that's what we're going to do," said Reeves.
Salaries for Mississippi Department of Corrections prison guards start at just over 25,000 dollars.
Ashley Norwood, MPB News.