Prison Legal News has learned through a public records request that 18 prisoners died at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman in just over a six-month period. The most recent reported death was that of Terry Echols, who passed away in May 2016 due to complications related to morbid obesity, according to prison officials.
Echols’ death was the latest in a long string of fatalities at a facility already under scrutiny not only by PLN but also the Clarion-Ledger, which reported that “Mississippi had the country’s number one prison mortality rate in 2007 with 454 deaths for every 100,000 prisoners ... [and] eighth overall ... between 2001 and 2011,” based on data from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Of the 18 deaths at Parchman that occurred between November 10, 2015 and May 23, 2016, five involved medical issues, one was a suicide and one prisoner was murdered. The causes of the other 11 deaths were listed as “pending” by prison officials, including the deaths of prisoners Jeffrey Alan Davis on April 1 and Albert Lee Thomas, Jr. on April 19, 2016. DOC spokeswoman Grace Fisher said the cause of death remains pending until a report is issued by the state medical examiner; some of the deaths have been listed as pending for more than six months.
The sole homicide involved prisoner Carlos Jack, 43, who was stabbed to death on December 18, 2015. He was allegedly killed by fellow prisoner Myran Shanks, 35, and died in the prison’s medical unit. Visitation and commissary privileges at Parchman were suspended following that incident.
The only suicide reported during the six-month period was that of Jasper Bell, who killed himself in Unit 29 on May 13, 2016. Bell, 21, was serving a 35-year sentence; he had committed several serious crimes as a juvenile, including murder, and was charged and sentenced as an adult.
Of the 18 reported deaths, six occurred in the medical unit at Parchman while six happened in Unit 29. Several of the deaths were reported at outside hospitals after prisoners had been transferred from the facility. Medical issues that resulted in known causes of death included lung cancer and cardiovascular disease.
The Mississippi ACLU has cited “urgent problems” in the state’s prison system, including deplorable conditions and substandard treatment for mentally ill prisoners – claims that were raised in a class-action suit filed by the ACLU in 2013 over conditions at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility. [See: PLN, Jan. 2014, p.24].
PLN has previously reported high levels of violence and deaths at the State Penitentiary in Parchman, including three murders in a three-month period in 2007. [See: PLN, April 2008, p.22].
The recent spate of deaths at the Parchman prison represents a mortality rate far higher than the national average, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The Mississippi DOC produced data related to the deaths pursuant to a public records request filed by PLN in May 2016, following a tip that several prisoners had died at Parchman during extended lockdowns in Unit 29.
Sources: http://wjtv.com, www.mdoc.ms.gov, www.clarionledger.com, records produced pursuant to PLN’s public records request, www.sunherald.com
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