Mississippi prison debacle with deaths and riots triggers rally for reform

Reform groups call for the new governor to investigate Parchman prison.

January 24, 2020, 4:23 PM

Dozens of family and friends of prisoners at a Mississippi state prison as well as several leaders of reform groups rallied on Friday to call on the newly elected governor to shut down the "terrible" facility.

The demonstration, led by groups including Color Of Change, Until Freedom, Team Roc, REFORM and Mississippi Prison Reform Coalition, called on elected officials including Governor Tate Reeves to investigate what's going on inside the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

The maximum-security prison reported eight inmate deaths within a month as well as riots, mold infestations and 24-hour lockdowns without showers, clean clothes or adequate water, according to Color of Change's Facebook's event page.

One of the speakers at the rally on Friday afternoon in front of Mississippi's State Capitol building called the prisoners the "whistleblowers" of the "broken criminal justice system."

Inmates used contraband cellphones to communicate to family members about the long-standing conditions at the prison.

Michael Norwood used a smuggled cellphone to text his mother that he thought he was going to get killed, another speaker said on Friday. Norwood, who was serving a 15-year sentence for selling marijuana, shooting into a dwelling and aggravated assault, was found dead in his cell in April 2018.

PHOTO: People attend a prison reform rally in Jackson, Mississippi, Jan. 24, 2020.
People attend a prison reform rally in Jackson, Mississippi, Jan. 24, 2020.

Reeves, who has only been on the job for about a week, appointed Tommy Taylor, the former mayor of Boyle, Mississippi, and chairman of the House Corrections Committee, to serve as the interim commissioner of the Department of Corrections.

The governor also took a tour of the facility himself and admitted the conditions were "terrible."

A federal civil lawsuit has been filed on behalf of 29 prisoners. The state's Department of Corrections former Commissioner Pelicia Hall and Mississippi State Penitentiary Superintendent Marshall Turner are among the defendants.

The lawsuit claims the officials were not taking measures to improve the conditions and to stop the violent outbreaks due to understaffing.

The crisis at the prison caught the attention of Jay-Z and Mississippi-born rappers Yo Gotti and Big K.R.I.T.