The American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed the 83-page complaint against the Mississippi Department of Corrections on Thursday in the federal court in Jackson. It alleges numerous gross abuses at the privately run East Mississippi Correctional Facility near Meridian, which houses some 1,500 inmates.
Among the claims are that of a grime-covered facility reeking of feces where inmates spend months in isolated darkness without access to showers or working toilets. It says prisoners routinely are denied medication, ignored by the guards, and use the rats that infest the building as currency to obtain goods and services.
“Each of these conditions, by itself, places prisoners at a substantial risk of serious harm,” according to the lawsuit. “Taken together, they create an environment so toxic that they threaten the physical and mental health of all the prisoners exposed to them.”
MDOC spokeswoman Grace Fisher said the department doesn’t comment on allegations made in pending litigation, but Commissioner Chris Epps said in a statement that “negotiating will be one of the options we will explore regarding this matter.”
This isn’t the first time the ACLU has sued over the conditions at a Mississippi prison. The organization filed suit in 2002 alleging inhumane treatment of death row prisoners at the State Penitentiary at Parchman and again in 2010 citing abuses at the Walnut Grove Youth Correction Facility. The Southern Poverty Law Center was co-counsel in the Walnut Grove case.
Both cases since have been resolved. In 2010, MDOC resolved the lawsuit at Parchman when it instituted a host of reforms over 2½ years and closed the super maximum-security Unit 32 after a string of violent deaths.
But the situation at EMCF “is the worst I’ve ever seen,” said Gabriel B. Eber, staff counsel for the ACLU’s National Prison Project, who was in Jackson on Thursday discussing the case. “And I’ve been in prisons all around the country.”