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Did a Private Prison Corporation's Abuse of Inmates Spark a Deadly Riot in Mississippi?

What little information has emerged from inside Adams County Correctional Center suggests that mistreatment and abuse at the hands of guards may have reached a breaking point.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Photo: courtesy of KTLA.

 
 
 
 

Reprinted with permission of Colorlines.com. For more news from a racial justice perspective, sign up to receive weekly Colorlines Direct.

A Mississippi jail is on lockdown today after a Sunday night riot left one prison guard dead and as many as 20 inmates and guards injured. According to sheriff’s reports, the violence began as a gang feud and soon engulfed the privately operated facility, which holds 2,500 non-citizens incarcerated for reentering the United States after deportation and for other charges. But the fragments of information that have emerged from inmates and advocates suggest that the violence had more to do with a pattern of abuse and neglect that has emerged at privately run, for-profit prisons.

The Adams County sheriff’s office and the Corrections Corporation of America, the behemoth prison company that operates the facility for the federal Bureau of Prisons, have tightly controlled news of the riot and what caused it. In statements, officials say the violence emerged out of thin air and soon “turned into a mob mentality,” according to Adams County Sheriff Chuck Mayfield.

“This could have happened anywhere, anytime,” Mayfield told  the Associated Press.

Prison watchdogs say that’s not necessarily true. What little independent information that has emerged from inside Adams County Correctional Center suggests a different story—one of mistreatment and abuse at the hands of guards that may have reached a breaking point.

At 5 p.m. on Sunday evening, an i nmate reportedly phoned a local TV station with a cell phone, sending photos to confirm that he was indeed held inside the facility.

“They always beat us and hit us,” the prisoner told the local reporter. “We just pay them back. We’re trying to get better food, medical (care), programs, clothes, and we’re trying to get some respect from the officers and lieutenants.”

According to the  news report, the prisoner said that nine guards had been taken hostage.

In an interview with Colorlines.com, Patricia Ice, who directs the legal program at the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, said that her organization has heard reports of neglect and abuse inside the Adams County facility. Ice said she received a call last month from a California woman who reported medical neglect of a family member in the jail.

“I got a complaint from a family member saying that a man had lung cancer and was being ignored,” Ice said. “Three weeks earlier, he was examined by a doctor and diagnosed with lung cancer but had not received any treatment at all.”

Prisoners' rights advocates say that the accounts of these inmates are consistent with documented conditions in private prison facilities around the country.

“Private prisons have a financial incentive to spend as little as possible in order to make a greater profit,” said Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership. Libal is a longtime advocate for the rights of prisoners held in private facilities. “They skimp on staff salaries and training, which leads to high turnover rates. They spend as little as possible on services in order to maximize profit. This mentality leads to poorly run facilities where abuse, neglect and prisoner uprisings are common.”

The Corrections Corporation of America operates over 60 jails and detention centers in 20 states with the capacity to hold over 90,000 people. The facilities have a track record of violence.

The Associated Press reports:

In 2004, inmates at a different CCA prison in Mississippi set fire to mattresses, clothing and a portable toilet. No injuries were reported. The company announced after that disturbance that it would add about 25 guards at the Tallahatchie County facility.

 
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