Inmates testify in federal court on Mississippi state prison conditions

Published 8:52 am Saturday, March 10, 2018

JACKSON  (AP) — Three inmates testified in federal court Friday that a Mississippi state prison has unsanitary conditions, is inadequately staffed and provides insufficient health care.

In its federal suit against the state of Mississippi, the American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Poverty Law Center argue that the state has been aware of East Mississippi Correctional Facility’s unconstitutionally abusive conditions. The state’s defense attorneys argue that the prison conditions are acceptable and some of the prison’s ailments can be attributed to inmates’ self-sabotage.

The prison, located near Meridian, is privately operated under contract by Utah-based Management and Training Corp.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

All three inmates described instances of failing plumbing, such as sewage backups that caused feces to seep through shower and cell drains, or broken, unusable cell toilets. Inmate Terry Beasley said at one point, the water in his cell’s sink ran black.

The inmates also described periods where the electricity failed and lights in their cells would go out – sometimes for weeks at a time.

Defense attorneys said these instances could be attributed to the inmates, saying they “tear up” the facilities. And when there were maintenance problems, they said EMCF sends maintenance workers to address them.

According to the testimonies, the unsanitary conditions extended into the prison’s food facilities. Eddie Pugh, who worked in the kitchen for nearly a year, described it as “nasty,” saying he could point out hundreds of roaches in the kitchen at any given time. And when making repairs in the kitchen, inmate and maintenance worker Saul Mata said he saw roaches and mouse droppings.

Defense attorneys argued that Pugh worked in the kitchen back in 2015 and the conditions could be different now, and that the prison has passed its state health inspections.

Each inmate also testified that guards did not consistently monitor their cell blocks. According to the inmates, guards make counts once every 30 to 40 minutes during the day, then leave the inmates unmonitored. In emergency situations, the inmates said it is difficult to get officers’ attention.

Beasley, who works as a porter in the prison, said a common way for prisoners to try to get officers’ attention was to start a fire within their cell, or cut themselves and stick their bleeding arms out of the tray slots in their doors.

In one instance, Beasley said he saw an inmate die after bleeding out on his cell floor. A guard did not respond until after inmates were banging on the door of the cellblock to get his attention.

Beasley said he has diabetes, and if his sugar drops too low, he can go into shock and eventually die. When asked by prosecutors how it makes him feel to know that officers can take this long to respond in the event of a medical emergency, Beasley began crying and answered, “It’s scary.”

Pugh said he has Crohn’s Disease. Sometimes, he said, prison nurses forget to order refills of his medication and he can go without it for weeks at a time.

When asked what he does in this situation, Pugh said, “be in agony.”

In each of the inmates’ cross-examinations, defense attorneys noted the inmates’ mental illness diagnoses and their convictions.

The trial is estimated to take up to six weeks and will resume Monday.