Rats Overrun Mississippi Prison for Mentally Ill: Lawsuit

Mentally ill inmates in a Mississippi prison live in “barbaric and horrific conditions” with rats climbing over their beds and mice crawling out of broken toilets, according to a federal lawsuit.

The East Mississippi Correctional Facility in Meridian is “extremely dangerous,” lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center said in a complaint filed on behalf of the prisoners yesterday in federal court in Jackson, Mississippi. The organizations seek to represent prisoners in a class action, or group lawsuit.

Officials at the Mississippi Department of Corrections who are responsible for the health and safety of the inmates have known about the “grossly inhumane conditions” and have failed to do take steps to protect the prisoners, according to the complaint. The officials are accused in the complaint of violating the prisoners’ civil rights.

“Rapes, stabbings, beatings, and other acts of violence are rampant,” according to the complaint. “Defendants housed one 16-year-old prisoner in a cell with an adult who sexually assaulted him.”

Tara Booth, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Corrections, didn’t immediately respond after regular business hours yesterday to a call seeking comment on the complaint.

Inmates at the prison, which is operated by Management and Training Corp., capture rats, put them on improvised leashes and sell them to other seriously mentally ill inmates, according to the complaint.

The prison’s solitary confinement section is known as the “dead area,” or the “dead zone,” because security officers avoid the area, according to the complaint. Prisoners resort to setting fires to get the attention of the staff, who often let the fires burn themselves out, according to the complaint.

‘Black Mucous’

“The air is so contaminated from frequent fires that some prisoners expel black mucous from their noses,” according to the complaint. “Prisoners with serious mental illness exacerbated by solitary confinement throw feces and urine. Other prisoners defecate into bags and food trays because their toilets do not work, creating a cesspool.”

Issa Arnita, a spokesman for closely held Management and Training Corp., based in Centerville, Utah, said in an telephone interview that the company has only been operating the facility for the past 10 months and that the majority of the allegations made in the complaint took place before then.

“This is a prison that has had issues,” Arnita said. “It’s a lot better now than it was before.”

Arnita declined to comment on specific allegations because the company isn’t a defendant in the case.

The case is Dockery v. Epps, 13-00326, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Mississippi (Jackson).

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