Violence in Mississippi Prisons Exacerbated by Guards’ Assistance
A contributor, perhaps the most serious one, to violence in Mississippi prisons is the accessory before the fact by guards.
Prisoners being able to access cells and cellblocks not their own due to locks being easily overcoming via design problems or guards “popping” them is a “constant” problem. Sometimes, the guards are just complicit.
Even where guards are caught on video opening areas for prisoners to conduct acts of violence or pass contraband, they do not face criminal charges. A guard at East Mississippi Correctional Facility (EMCF) was captured on a June 19th, 2012 video exiting the “A” zone with four members of the Vice Lords gang; he then let 10 members of the Gangsters out of the “D” zone.
After the guard exited the area, that gangs warred, resulting in prisoner Isaiah Sanders being stabbed in the spine. On the video, the guard appeared to be “giving one of the groups instructions and that something was passed either from him or to him,” prisoner investigator Michael Rice wrote in an email. “At one point, he was even laughing before the incident.”
GEO, who managed the prison at the time, informed the Mississippi Department of Corrections about its findings with a recommendation for prosecution. Yet, neither the guard nor prisoners faced charges for the incident.
Prisoner Philip Fredenburg, who is 5-foot-3 and weighs 120 pounds, was subjected to a gang beating less than three months later. An investigative report found “several officers were complicit in it or facilitated the assault.” A lawsuit by Fredenburg alleges “an officer remained in the control tower throughout the assault, with full access to the security cameras monitoring the zone and an electronic system that indicates when the cell doors are open.”
The murder of prisoner Clifton Majors of Central Mississippi Correctional Facility on September 1, 2013, occurred after a guard let his killer, prisoner Tyler Smith, into his cell. Prisoner Carlos Moore told investigators the tower guard “popped” the lock on Majors’ cell for Smith to enter.
“I have seen numerous officers pop the doors for other inmates,” Moore told investigators. “Officers will open doors from the towers.”
To be alerted to such malfeasance, prisoners tie a bed sheet to the cell door. “This will wake us up if someone tried to enter.” No prosecution has ever ensued against a Mississippi guard for unlocking cell doors that enabled prisoners to assault or kill.”
“If a teacher at a high school facilitated a gang hit on certain students, people would demand criminal prosecution,” said Matt Steffey, professor at Mississippi College School of Law, we can’t give guards the right to help gangs carry out life-threatening assaults or revenge killings.
Former Washington State Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail inspected EMCF and noted jammed locks were a problem at the prison. “The officer told me that the problem was ‘constant’ and that work orders were routinely submitted,” he wrote, “allowing [prisoners] to come and go as they please, a common occurrence.”