View Full Version : ACLU attorneys wrap up tour of Parchman state penitentiary

09-01-2004, 07:00 PM

Posted on Wed, Sep. 01, 2004

Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. - Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union called Wednesday for the state to extend court-ordered improvements to Parchman's death row to other areas of the unit where some of Mississippi's most dangerous inmates are housed.

Margaret Winter, associate director and attorney for the ACLU's National Prison Project, and others conducted a two-day tour of Unit 32, returning to Washington on Wednesday.

Winter told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that while living conditions in some areas of the 1,000-inmate unit are "a really, really bad situation," they are correctable.

The ACLU sued the Mississippi Department of Corrections last year over conditions on death row. The lawsuit claimed that excessive heat, human excrement, biting insects and the rants of psychotic prisoners had become a detrimental way of life for inmates on death row.

A federal magistrate agreed that the conditions violated prisoners' Eighth Amendment rights and ordered the state to make improvements. In an appeal, prison officials claimed the conditions cited in the lawsuit were not the source of any inmate's illnesses or physical harm.

In June, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered improvements to death row but exempted other areas of Unit 32.

Leonard Vincent, attorney for the Mississippi Department of Corrections, said Wednesday that some of the court-ordered improvements to death row were being extended into the rest of Unit 32. The unit houses death row and inmates classified as the most violent.

"The employees at Parchman have really, really worked hard. Death row looks fantastic," Vincent said.

Vincent said MDOC would only go so far in improvements at the unit.

"Unit 32 is a unit where we put the worst prisoners in the state of Mississippi. They're the most violent," he said. "We just can't see ourselves with ice on demand and putting fans in with people who make shanks out of toothbrushes. That just doesn't seem like a real good idea from a security standpoint.

"Obviously, we're willing to talk if we can avoid litigation. On the other hand, we're not going to do anything that we think that's going to compromise security," Vincent said.

Winter said the progress being made to improve conditions on death row are encouraging. She said the repairs being made on death row could be extended to the rest of Unit 32.

"We'd really like to get there without more litigation," Winter said. "We already know how the court is going to rule on these many issues based on the death row decision. We want to see if there is some way to come to some agreement."

Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps had estimated the cost of improvements on death row to be upward of $300,000.