What happens when corrections officers are scared and vastly outnumbered at the facilities at which they are employed? Like Nature, prison abhors a vacuum, and soon gangs are calling the shots. At the South Mississippi Correctional Institute (“SMCI”), gangs set the rules and those who don’t follow them find themselves beaten or dead.
For example, when a new inmate arrives, he is assigned a bed by the prison staff. Odds are a gang member will tell him where to sleep instead. That is most likely on a bed without a mattress, because the gangs take the mattresses for their own use. Although cellphones are not allowed in prison, gang members usually have them, and each new inmate is photographed.
Should the inmate receive a transfer to another area of the prison, the gang leader in that section gets the photo prior to the prisoner’s arrival. The bottom line is that inmates are scared for their lives in SMCI.
Inmates Hear Prisoner Beaten to Death
In late May 2018, inmates at SMCI heard the screams of inmate Eddie Shorty, 57, as he was beaten to death inside his cell by his cellmate. Shorty had previously asked guards to move him because of the cellmate’s abuse.
Other inmates beat on their cell doors, trying to attract the attention of guards, but that only resulted in a guard telling them to “shut the hell up” over the loudspeaker.
According to the state autopsy results, Shorty died due to blunt trauma and strangulation. His cellmate, arrested for murder, said no one came to the cell after their fight and Shorty’s death –his cellmate claims Shorty tried to sexually assault him –for five hours.
In an April 2019 incident, gangs tried to kill one inmate, 35, who was set afire after a beating. The inmate, in a coma and on a ventilator, was moved to a long-term care facility, but SMCI refused to let his mother know the location. The inmate was serving a 12-year sentence for larceny and vehicle burglaries.
Another inmate, Jeffery Wilemon, was severely beaten by a gang for “not following the rules.” The gang held him hostage for 12 hours, and when he finally found a guard to help him, he passed out on the way to the prison medical clinic. Wilemon was airlifted to a hospital where doctors removed his gallbladder and spleen, ruptured in the beating, and repaired his small intestines.
Guard Numbers Down by One-Third
Just two years ago, Mississippi employed 905 guards at its three state prisons. Today, while the inmate population remains the same, the number of guards employed by the state is just 627. Low pay and poor working conditions make it hard to attract new employees.
The pay is the lowest in the country for prison guards, starting at just $12.33 per hour. The amount is low enough to allow guards with a family of three to qualify for food stamps.
At SMCI, the inmate-to-guard ratio is 23 to 1, among the highest in the nation for state prison systems and higher than that of the federal system. Mississippi’s correction commissioner says she has tried to get the legislature to approve raises for corrections officers and admits the seriousness of the staffing shortage.
In fact, the guard shortage is so severe that 1,800 of SCMI’s approximately 3,000 inmates have been on lockdown since the beginning of 2019. That means the two inmates in each cell are confined virtually 24/7. Visitation and similar privileges are all canceled.
Guards are apparently so intimidated by the prison gangs that they have resorted to falsifying required inmate counts. The Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) mandates regular inmate counting, often on an hourly basis. In a memo, the SMCI superintendent warned guards that staff found falsifying reports face “reprimands.”
Although the internal memo wound up posted in an inmate dayroom, MDOC officials refuse to comment on the falsified reporting.
Inmates have the right not to be abused. If you or a loved one has suffered mistreatment in jail or prison, you have legal options and may be entitled to compensation. CALL US at 866.836.4684 or Connect Online to learn how we can help you file a federal civil rights lawsuit.