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Sentencing/Post Conviction

Rats are so plentiful at Mississippi prison that inmates put them on leashes, suit says

Posted Jun 3, 2013 6:04 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A Mississippi prison for mentally ill inmates is so infested with rats that some prisoners put them on makeshift leashes and sell them as pets, according to a lawsuit filed on Thursday.

The suit (PDF) says the East Mississippi Correctional Facility near Meridian is "an extremely dangerous facility operating in a perpetual state of crisis, where prisoners live in barbaric and horrific conditions." Bloomberg and Reuters have stories, and the American Civil Liberties Union has a press release.

Among the allegations: Many inmates are locked down in solitary confinement zones, sometimes for years at a time. Many have untreated illnesses. Rapes and beatings are “rampant.” Cells often lack functioning toilets and working lights, and inmates defecate on Styrofoam trays or plastic trash bags. Inmates often set fires to get attention in emergencies, creating so much contamination that “some prisoners expel black mucous from their noses.” One inmate who threatened suicide died after being sprayed with Mace, yet medical staff for the next several days continued to “document” that he appeared “in good health and mood.”

“Rats climb over prisoners’ beds in the dark and mice crawl out of broken toilets,” the suit alleges. “The extreme deprivations and extraordinarily harsh conditions and EMCF have even fostered commerce in rats: Some prisoners capture rats, put them on improvised leashes, and sell them as pets to the seriously mentally ill.”

The suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Law Offices of Elizabeth Alexander. The case, Dockery v. Epps, claims prison officials abdicated their responsibility to provide safe and humane conditions by turning prisons over to private contractors with "a strong incentive to maximize profits at the expense of prisoner well-being."

The Management & Training Corp. began operating the prison last year, though it is not named as a defendant. Spokesperson Issa Arnita told Bloomberg that many of the allegations concern problems that occurred before the company took over. “This is a prison that has had issues,” Arnita said. “It’s a lot better now than it was before.”

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