Sarah Ford | September 30, 2014

SPLC Court Filing Details Barbaric Conditions at Private Prison in Mississippi

By Jamie Kizzire

A prisoner at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility (EMCF) told the counselor that his heart was hurting and that he didn’t have a reason to live. He was also having hallucinations.

As the counselor met with the prisoner in December 2013, he noticed that the man was attempting to cut himself with a small, dull object. There was also a long rope around the prisoner’s neck. The counselor reached a conclusion: This prisoner is not in distress.

The counselor then simply walked away.

The prisoner would not see a mental health professional for nine more days. An expert reviewing the case for the Southern Poverty Law Center would later describe the incident as “beyond any deliberate indifference I have seen in my entire career; it is the definition of intentional patient abandonment.”

The prisoner eventually resorted to a tactic that others at this privately operated, for-profit prison use to get help: He set fire to his cell. Two days later, he was found dead in his cell – the apparent result of a heart condition the staff at the Meridian, Mississippi, prison rarely took seriously.

And it appears that attitude at this prison – home to many prisoners with mental health needs – never changed, if an entry in his medical chart is any indication. The entry showed that his vital signs were stable.

He had been dead for 10 hours at that point.

“I cannot state with certainty that the blatant and callous lack of care that this 43 year old man received during his last months at EMCF caused his death,” Dr. Marc F. Stern, a board-certified internist specializing in correctional care, wrote in a report for the SPLC. “However, I can state that it deprived him of any chance he had for continued survival.”

The SPLC in 2013 sued the state over conditions at the prison and yesterday filed a motion to certify the suit as a class action. If certified by the court, the lawsuit would benefit all prisoners at the facility, including the majority who have serious mental health needs. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Law Office of Elizabeth Alexander, and Covington & Burling LLP are serving as co-counsel.

The original lawsuit describes a nightmarish, violent prison where lights and toilets often don’t work, prisoners rarely see sunlight and go without showers for weeks, and floors and walls are covered in feces, blood and urine.

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