In October 2022, the Mississippi Corrections and Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force reported there were 2,192 more state prisoners than the year before. That pushed the state Department of Corrections (DOC) close to 95% capacity, despite reopening a former juvenile prison in 2021.
That prison, Walnut Grove Correctional Facility, now holds about 140 of the state’s nearly 19,000 adult prisoners. Since DOC Commissioner Burl Cain repurposed it in July 2021, it houses just over 30 prisoners enrolled in a 90-day addiction treatment program. Others in the lockup include violent prisoners held in maximum security.
Prisoners in the addiction treatment program also receive job training. A state Medicaid program helped them continue seeing the same therapist after release, but it lasted just a year. The violent prisoners in the maximum-security lockup have no phone access and “no contact with each other,” DOC said. They include six members of a prison gang who killed fellow prisoner Bobbie Jenkins, 29, at East Mississippi Correctional Facility in November 2021. [See: PLN, Aug. 2022, p.16.]
Walnut Grove’s reopening was marred by allegations of racism and incompetence. Guard Shanterria Mingo, 27, resigned in March 2022 after just five months on the job because of fears for her safety. “They should have never reopened Walnut Grove prison,” she said. “How can you have a prison that’s open with no cameras working?” She also said that “white inmates get more privileges than the Black inmates.”
The prison has at least one notorious resident: Convicted double-murderer Michael Wilson, 51, was sent to Walnut Grove upon his recapture following an escape from South Mississippi Correctional Facility over Valentine’s Day weekend in 2022. It was his second escape from DOC custody, after busting out of the state penitentiary in Parchman in July 2019. [See: PLN, Oct. 2019, p.60.]
The prison’s last incarnation as a privately operated youth facility ended in 2016, after a federal judge called out DOC for letting “gangs run amok” and creating “a picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world.” [See: PLN, Sep. 2017, p.58.] Retrofit cost about $1.5 million, Cain said, because the state realized significant savings using “inmate labor and so forth.”
Sources: aclu.org, Clarion Ledger, Jackson Advocate, Jackson Free Press
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