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Three Killed in Gang Activity at Mississippi Private Prisons Plus High-Profile Escape, But Only One MTC Guard Arrested

by Kevin Bliss

Though a state investigation concluded a Mississippi prisoner had inside help making a short-lived escape in September 2021, no charges have ever been announced for officials at East Mississippi Correctional Facility (EMCF), the privately operated prison where he was held.

In fact, even as allegations of rampant gang activity and prisoner killings mount at EMCF and two other prisons operated for the state Department of Corrections (DOC) by Utah-based Management and Training Corp. (MTC), there have been no announced charges at all in the upper ranks of prison officials nine months later.

The escaped prisoner, Garnett Hughes, 33, was recaptured after a five-day manhunt on September 15, 2021. He had been granted leave to attend his mother’s funeral and broke free of two escorting police officers before fleeing with the help of his girlfriend to Akron, Ohio, where he was then found. The girlfriend, Yvette Mendoza, 51, was arrested on charges she abetted his escape. [See: PLN, Nov. 2021, p.62.]

Hughes was serving 15 separate life sentences for kidnapping, sexual battery, armed robbery, assault on a law enforcement officer, and escape. Yet despite that history—not to mention a DOC ban on prisoner leave during the COVID-19 pandemic—he was allowed to attend his mother’s funeral in Belzoni, 150 miles away from EMCF.

Former EMCF security chief Sgt. Matthew Naidow stated that there was no way Hughes should have been granted leave. “How do you let an inmate with two escapes, especially a lifer, go like that?” he asked. “That’s an automatic red flag.”

Naidow added that the request could only be approved by top officials in the prison, at least the deputy warden or higher. Hughes’ leave was in fact approved by an EMCF deputy warden, but the warden failed to forward the request to DOC for review. The deputy warden and three other staff officials were placed on administrative leave during the investigation.

In addition to EMCF,  MTC also runs the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility (WCCF), and it ran the Marshall County Correctional Facility (MCCF) until September 13, 2021. The federal Department of Justice has opened an investigation into allegations that guards allowed prisoner gangs to control WCCF. Gang activity was also implicated in the fatal beating of MCCF prisoner Torrie Ellis, 40, on May 12, 2021. Since then, another three EMCF prisoners have been killed, and at least two of those deaths were tied to gang activity.

Simon City Royals member Robert Williams, 29, was found dead on August 31, 2021. He had reportedly been captured on surveillance video participating in the fatal attack on fellow gang member Brad Fitch, 28, when Fitch arrived at WCCF in January 2018. An MTC audit in December of that year faulted former Warden Jody Bradley for giving gangs run of WCCF. [See: PLN, Oct. 2019, p.18.] But MTC allowed Bradley to retire in January 2019, when he became Chief of Police in Greenwood.

EMCF guards found prisoner Jeremy Russell, 21, unresponsive in his cell on October 7, 2021, and another prisoner, Bobbie Jenkins, 29, was killed on November 26, 2021. No results have been reported from an investigation into Russell’s death, but a guard, Joni Collins, 27, was arrested on December 14, 2021, for allegedly allowing members of the Vice Lords gang to attack Jenkins and other members of the 4 Corner Hustlers gang, whose leader had reportedly been stabbed by Vice Lords several weeks prior.

DOC took back control of MCCF after persistent staffing shortages required the state agency to fill in with its own employees, whose expense by contract should have fallen on MTC, along with a 25% penalty fee. However, according to a December 2020 report by The Marshall Project, the requirement to cover the staffing expense was not enforced at any of MTC’s prisons, costing taxpayers millions more than the $1.27 million MTC paid for the penalties alone in 2020.

The Marshall Project’s attempts to document the company’s failings were frustrated when DOC couldn’t turn over nearly half of 321 weekly incident reports sought from MTC’s three state prisons in an open records request. After a suit was filed for the reports in Hinds County Chancery Court, DOC admitted in December 2021 that “they were never generated” by MTC. Dun & Bradstreet reported that MTC was the nation’s third-largest private prison operator, with estimated 2020 revenues of $667 million. 


Additional sources: Clarion-Ledger, The Marshall Project, Meridian Star, Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, U.S. News, WBLT

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