Top officer replaced at troubled south Mississippi prison

Published 9:36 am Tuesday, August 14, 2018

LEAKESVILLE, Miss. (AP) — The top officer of a Mississippi prison has been replaced, weeks after a convicted murderer escaped and days after an inmate’s mother said her son was set on fire by another prisoner.

Jacquelyn Banks was removed Monday as superintendent of South Mississippi Correctional Institution near Leakesville, and Deputy Warden Joe Errington was appointed interim superintendent, said Grace Simmons Fisher, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections.

Banks had held the top job at the prison since May 2015. She remains employed by the state prison system, but Simmons would not say where or in what job.
Errington, 60, has worked his entire career for the Department of Corrections, starting in 1989 as a correctional officer at South Mississippi Correctional Institution, the department said in a news release.

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The mother of inmate Tony Howard Jr. said she wants to know why another prisoner set her son on fire Aug. 3 inside the prison, and she says she is receiving little information from the state. Tony Howard Jr. is serving a 20-year sentence for manslaughter. He remains hospitalized.

Linda Howard of Moss Point said an investigator from the Mississippi Department of Corrections called her six days later and told her another inmate obtained gasoline while working in the prison yard and delivering mail, then used the gas and a homemade lighter to burn Tony Howard Jr.

“As far as I’m concerned, the inmates are running the jail, not the staff,” Linda Howard told WLOX-TV .

She said she and her husband, Tony Howard Sr., want to know how badly their son was burned, how another inmate could gain access to his maximum-security cell and where the prison guards were when he was set on fire.

The department confirmed an encounter between Howard and another inmate, but has declined to provide details.

“Because this is an ongoing investigation with information subject to change, the department’s practice is to not release specifics,” Fisher told the Sun Herald . “Upon completion of the investigation, if the department believes charges are merited, the case will be referred to a prosecutor’s office.”

Republican state Sen. Dennis DeBar of Leakesville last month asked the state attorney general to investigate Michael F. Wilson’s July 5 escape from the south Mississippi prison. DeBar said he thinks the corrections department “may not conduct a fair and impartial review” and may not release findings to the public.

Wilson, also known as “Pretty Boy Floyd,” was captured July 7 in Ocean Springs, about 70 miles (113 kilometers) south of the prison. Electronic billboards around the state had flashed Floyd’s picture and warned he could be dangerous. The corrections department statement said prison employees followed protocol, including notification of city, county and state law enforcement agencies, after the escape. After he was captured, Wilson was transferred to the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, which is in the northwestern part of the state.