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Bill to shut down Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman dies in committee

Legislation that would have shuttered the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman died in committee on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 2353, authored by Sen. Juan Barnett, planned to initiate a four-year phasedown of operations at Parchman. During that time span, inmates and employees would have been transferred to other state and regional facilities while the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) leased out most of the 18,000-acre site in Sunflower and Quitman counties leaving one building for the care of inmates with mental illnesses.

As the 68-page bill circulated throughout the capitol, it unsurprisingly passed the Senate Corrections Committee – which is chaired by Barnett – before reaching a dead end in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

In an interview on MidDays with Gerard Gibert prior to the bill’s death, Barnett cited dilapidated conditions as his main reasoning for wanting to close the state penitentiary.

“Parchman itself is like 123 years old, and we have so many buildings there that we’re not using. Some that we are using, but some that we just can’t use. Period,” Barnett said. “We’re still spending taxpayers’ money on a facility and some facilities that are just too old. Regardless of how much patchwork we do today, we’ll never fix that problem.”

Even though MDOC would have been in charge of implementing the changes included in the bill, Barnett admitted that he never discussed the idea with Commissioner Burl Cain before dropping the legislation.

“I really haven’t talked to Commissioner Cain to ask how they feel about it, but I can say as a taxpayer…I would like to see my tax dollars being spent in areas where we can see some good as a result and not just my tax dollars being thrown away into something that we don’t ever fix,” Barnett said.

While Barnett vouched there was enough capacity at other prisons to stop operations at Parchman, MDOC never confirmed that to be the case. When asked by SuperTalk Mississippi News, the agency declined a request to comment.

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