LDF Issues Statement on DOJ Investigation Finding Constitutional Violations at Mississippi State Penitentiary

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Read a PDF of our statement here.

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) completed its investigation into the Mississippi state prison known as Parchman and found that it has reasonable grounds to believe that the state of Mississippi routinely violates the constitutional rights of inmates through the conditions and practices at Parchman . The DOJ found that Parchman Correctional Officers failed to protect incarcerated individuals from violence, subjected them to inhumane treatment and conditions in prolonged solitary confinement, failed to protect individuals from self-harm, and failed to provide individuals with severe mental health needs with adequate mental health care.

Parchman has a long and sordid history, especially for black Americans. Parchman, Mississippi’s oldest prison, was originally the land of Parchman Plantation, which was a forced labor camp. After Parchman’s founding in 1901, the state exploited black Americans and forced them to work in inhumane conditions in Parchman’s cotton fields. In 1961, Freedom Riders were arrested and jailed in Parchman for questioning segregation policies on Mississippi buses and suffered shocking abuse from state officials. In 1971, persons incarcerated at Parchman filed a federal lawsuit, and the presiding federal judge written down that Parchman was fraught with violence and neglect and was indeed “unfit for human habitation under any modern concept of decency.”

“The legacy of Parchman is an inseparable part of this country’s history of racism, enslavement and mass incarceration. Parchman has long been an example of some of the worst human rights abuses in this country, and we commend the Justice Department for its thorough investigation into Mississippi’s failure to protect the rights of those incarcerated in this state penitentiary,” said NAACP Legal Janai S. Nelson , President and Director-Counsel of Defense and Educational and Fund, Inc. (LDF). “Parchman’s cruel and unusual punishment is not just a relic of the past, but current and enduring harm that is symbolic of the crisis of our failed prison system today.”

“The Justice Department’s investigation into Parchman and the resulting findings are a critical first step in addressing the deep, unconstitutional failings of the state of Mississippi by allowing the appalling conditions of this prison to persist,” said Jin, senior deputy director of litigation & Director of Strategic Initiatives Hi Lee. “To put it bluntly, the myriad human rights abuses faced by inmates across the South do not spare Parchman. The state of prisons in the South is a national emergency and there is an urgent need to uphold the human rights of all those detained who have lived too long in the most deplorable conditions.”

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Established in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the country’s premier civil and human rights organization. LDF has been entirely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957 – although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares their commitment to equality. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multidisciplinary and collaborative center within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and conducts innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.

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