Mississippi begins its defense in trial on prison conditions
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The alleged unconstitutionally cruel conditions at a Mississippi prison aren’t unique to his lockup, the warden testified Monday.
Frank Shaw, who oversees the privately-run East Mississippi Correctional Facility near Meridian, took the stand Monday as the first defense witness four weeks into a federal trial over the prison’s conditions.
He testified that many of its issues are universal in correctional facilities.
American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Poverty Law Center lawyers argued the plaintiffs’ case, with inmates and expert witnesses testifying to notorious violence, as well as inadequate health care and unsanitary conditions. The state refutes that the conditions are acceptable, and that some of its issues exist because of inmates’ self-sabotage.
One such problem that plaintiffs claim is that the prison is inadequately staffed to monitor inmates. Shaw said EMCF offers “indirect supervision” of inmates which, he said, mirrors policies of other prisons throughout the country. An officer in a picket above inmates can watch over, as well as security cameras which are monitored by an officer in a control room, he said.
“Do they see everything that happens?” Shaw said. “Absolutely not, but they have a good view of it.”
What is not always seen, plaintiffs say, is inmate violence. In a video shown to the courtroom Monday, several inmates jumped one other, beating him for minutes with no officers responding to deescalate the fight.
Several inmate witnesses have testified to this violence, describing times they were jumped or shanked, sometimes in their own cells. One inmate had his leg broken, another stabbed in the eye with a sharpened metal object. Plaintiffs presented a report of an inmate who says he was raped.
When asked by defense lawyers about inmate violence, Shaw replied that that is a universal reality.
“It’s the nature of prisons,” Shaw said. “It’s the nature of the beast.”
Shaw made a similar point Monday when testifying on contraband. “As long as you have employees and offenders in a facility, you’re going to have contraband,” he said.
The prison has taken steps to alleviate the issue, Shaw said. Body scanners have been installed at the prison’s entrance that every visitor and officer must go through before entering. But Shaw noted that officers and delivery drivers have still figured out ways of getting contraband inside undetected.
Inmates have testified throughout the trial that they had seen cockroaches and mouse droppings throughout the facility, particularly in the kitchen. When asked about pest control, Shaw said a pest control vendor comes at least twice a month.
Shaw said that as far as he knows the prison has never failed its yearly Department of Health inspection
Inmates have also testified that lights that won’t turn on, dysfunctional toilets or sewage backing up through drains onto cell and bathroom floors.
“In most cases when we have those issues,” Shaw said, “it’s inmate related. They’ve either flushed something down they shouldn’t have or torn something up.”
Shaw said maintenance workers fix these issues as quickly as possible.
Plaintiffs have also raised concern over inmates’ health care, offering testimony from inmates who say they weren’t given proper doses of their medications, or given medical attention quickly enough in cases of injury.
Shaw said he believes the medical care group the prison contracts with is doing a good job. But do inmates sometimes run out of their medication?
“Yes, I have heard complaints from offenders that that sometimes happens,” Shaw said.
Defense lawyers said Monday they anticipate wrapping their case this week.