In the month of August alone, there have been a reported 16 deaths across Mississippi Department of Corrections facilities. This number is a massive increase from the monthly average of only four inmate deaths statewide per month.
It is unclear at this point in time what the cause of death was for the majority of the inmates. Therefore, it would not be particularly fair to say that the prisons and their staff are undoubtedly to blame for these deaths. There is a possibility that these deaths that have occurred are circumstantial, however, the evidence that is available now would suggest what is in my opinion a lack of basic amenities and a lack of oversight by the prisons.
Authorities have speculated that most of the causes are likely related to illness or natural causes. It is known that at least one individual, named Nija Syvallus Bonhomme, was killed in a fight. According to NBC News, another individual, Nicole Rathmann, suffered an aneurysm as a result of an addiction to methamphetamine that she maintained while in prison. The fact that she was able to remain in active addiction to methamphetamine highlights some of the problems that Mississippi has with the prison system.
It is known that overcrowding in Mississippi prisons has been a massive issue for a very long time. Despite the government’s attempts to lower the number of inmates in state prisons by reducing sentences for individuals found in possession of drugs, overcrowding in Mississippi prisons remains an issue. Overcrowding in penitentiaries such as Parchman farm, combined with not having air conditioning in the prison, may be a contributing factor to these deaths.
According to data attained by NOAA (National Centers for Environmental Information), the average temperatures in the southeastern United States have been steadily inclining, and these increasingly high temperatures just add to the dangers of living in a crowded area without air conditioning. Protecting inmates’ wellbeing should be as important as protecting the average civilian. We are passed the ages of barbarism in which we condemned individuals for crimes and denied them the right to be treated as a human.
My philosophy on this is that individuals who are jailed for crimes committed should be rehabilitated. With many criminals, they do reform in prison and become contributing members of society after their time in prison. I think that if we are not taking care of their basic welfare in Mississippi prisons to the point that inmates are dying then we are absolutely not doing our job and are just removing them from society and not creating a more positive future for the criminal or civilians around that individual when he or she gets out.
Also, the medical care afforded to inmates at Parchman and other prisons has been suspect for years. The fact that Nicole Rathmann has managed to continue to use methamphetamine throughout her sentence exemplifies that there was a major problem in keeping her healthy while in prison. Some individuals who passed this month were in their 70s and above, and their deaths may have been natural causes. However, there were 6 individuals under 45 years old who died in August, which is more than the monthly average of all deaths altogether.
There is clearly some flaw with the prison system in Mississippi that is not being addressed and is threatening inmates. I do not believe that there is any deliberate maliciousness taking place from the prisons themselves or the guards, however I do believe that there is a very good chance that appropriate medical care is not being provided to inmates. Also, there clearly has not been proper supervision of the inmates both medically and behaviorally, as one died in a fight and another by using drugs.
At this point, all that we have is speculation about most of these details. However, it is very obvious that something is off here, and that the justice system needs to be incredibly open with the public about this issue so that it can be resolved. Right now, autopsies are being performed on the deceased inmates, and no clear and definitive answers will be available until the autopsies are released.