Smartphones aren’t permitted in prisons. Of course, that does not mean they aren’t readily available - for a price. These days, the use of contraband smartphones by inmates are revealing, through images and words, the horrors of conditions in Mississippi and other prisons.
A reporter recently spoke with dozens of inmates housed in the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman via a smuggled cellphone. Within the past few weeks, this notorious prison has been the scene of violence that killed several inmates.
While getting caught with a cellphone means inmates are in danger of having considerably more time tacked on to their sentences, nearly 12,000 such devices were found in Mississippi correctional facilities in 2018 alone. From the number detected, it’s easy to imagine their pervasiveness.
While authorities blame cellphone access for causing unrest both behind bars and in the outside world, their possession by prisoners allows the public to see the horrors of conditions in the prison system for themselves. There is no doubt many stories about prison violence and terrible conditions would never have seen the light of day without forbidden cellphone access.
The images texted to the reporter and published in the New York Times show dead rodents in traps, broken toilets, loose electrical wiring, holes in the walls, moldy walls, brown water surging out of taps, and most notably, inmates fighting with each other. Other photos reveal daily practices in prison, such as tying food from the ceiling so rats can’t get at it.
During the riots in late December, inmates posted a live video on Facebook. One man shared a video of the wounds he received during the altercations, saying he thought he was struck by a rubber bullet.
Keeping in Touch
Of course, inmates don’t only use cellphones to show the world what is going on inside a prison. Most inmates want them to keep in touch with family and friends, especially as lockdowns in places like Parchman mean that visitation is now at a minimum (if it exists at all).
12 Years Added
One Mississippi county jail inmate, Willie Nash, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for illegal possession of a cellphone. At the time, he was held on a misdemeanor charge when he inquired about charging the phone’s battery. Activists around the country decried the sentence as unusually harsh, but the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the sentence in August 2018.
Even the justices deciding the case deemed the sentence “obviously harsh” and noted it showed a failure of the criminal justice system. However, Nash’s sentence did fall within the sentencing guidelines, even as his attorney argued it was a violation of the Eighth Amendment, as cruel and unusual punishment.
While the fallout from the Nash case has frightened some inmates, others are determined to keep their cellphones – many of them burner phones procured, brought in, and sold by corrections officers. The mother of one prison activist says that authorities can’t shut up all of the inmates, and cannot take away all of the cellphones.
If you or a loved one suffered death or catastrophic injuries at the hands of the police, prison guards or jail staff, you may be entitled to damages. Visit our inmate abuse information page for more details. Ready to see if you have a case? CALL US at 866.836.4684 or Connect Online to learn how we can help you file a federal civil rights lawsuit.