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Senate Corrections Chairman Proposes Closure of Parchman Prison

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune.

FILE – In this July 21, 2010, photo, employees leave the front gate of the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman, Miss. An inmate at the Mississippi prison that was a focus of recent deadly unrest was found hanging in his cell by two corrections officers over the weekend and pronounced dead, a coroner said Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

  • State Sen. Juan Barnett says closing the 120-year-old Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman would place inmates in more secure facilities while saving the state money.

Legislation has been introduced by State Senator Juan Barnett (D) to conduct a phased-down closure of the state’s most notable penitentiary, Parchman, by 2028. The goal is to place the inmates in a more secure facility with the savings from the move intended to be used to increase corrections officer pay and address the current shortfall in personnel.  

Located in Sunflower County, the facility sits on 18,000 acres and has 2,542 beds in seven housing structures. Parchman has been in operation since the 1905 fiscal year and in use since 1901.

According to Senate Bill 2353, if it becomes law, the phased-down closure, which could cost nearly $150 million, would take place over four years starting on July 1st. Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain would be required to develop a closure plan and the Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force would assess the plan’s outcomes.

The majority of staff and inmates would be transferred to a facility in Tutwiler operated by private contractor CoreCivic. However, inmates on death row would continue to be housed at Parchman.

“The plan is to leave some inmates at Parchman, like those on death row, because the other place does not have that set up. The medically frail will also stay at Parchman,” Barnett, chairman of the Senate Corrections Committee, told Magnolia Tribune.

Those who are medically frail include inmates with mental health illnesses and those housed in the nursing home. To continue to address that need, an existing facility on the grounds of Parchman will be utilized to provide mental health services to inmates. Should the bill gain approval, that facility would be known as the Northwest Mississippi Facility for the Treatment and Care of Inmates with Mental Illness. 

Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility at Tutwiler, where the majority of the inmates at Parchman will be transferred, will be known as the Northwest Mississippi Correctional Facility. 

Senator Barnett added that the move is being proposed due to the age of the Parchman facility as well as the current maintenance needs of the structures and a shortage of people to staff the facility. He said the Tutwiler facility has the capacity to house the inmates that will be transferred from Parchman.

“We’re just spending too much on that place. Today we may have satisfied the Department of Justice, but we know tomorrow we will have the same issues again. It’s not fair to keep pouring in money in something that will never be fully functional,” Barnett said.

The bill also cites the proximity of other prisons, correctional officer shortages, and a need to align prison populations with capacity.

After the phased-down closure is complete, Parchman will be placed in trust and leased for use as agricultural, industrial, commercial, residential, recreational or other uses for a term up to 40 years.

The bill also tasks the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) with reducing the prison population by no less than 1,700 people by July 1, 2026, and authorizes the Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review, or PEER, to monitor the financial state of MDOC, while also evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of its programs, providing reports to the Legislature. 

Kate Head with MDOC’s communications said since the legislation is in its early stages MDOC has no comment at this time. 

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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