PARCHMAN, Miss. (WLOX) - The Mississippi Department of Corrections has confirmed the rash of deadly violence in the state prison system this week is gang-related.
The lockdown of state, private and regional facilities will continue until further notice as MDOC continues to investigate the most recent string of deadly violence.
A fifth inmate was found dead Friday, bringing the total to three inmates found dead at Parchman, one killed at Chickasaw County Regional Correctional Facility in Houston, and another died during a fight at South Mississippi Correctional Institution in Leakesville.
However, MDOC investigators said the fifth death and fire reported Thursday, both at Parchman, are unrelated to the recent major disturbance.
“We are continuing to be vigilant and mindful of the situation,” Commissioner Pelicia E. Hall said. “These are trying times for the Mississippi Department of Corrections. It is never a good feeling for a commissioner to receive a call that a life has been lost, especially over senseless acts of violence.”
Hall said investigators have been working tirelessly and aggressively pursuing leads to determine what sparked the violence.
Governor-elect Tate Reeves met with MDOC officials Friday regarding the violent incidents.
After the first death on Sunday, the Mississippi Department of Corrections placed all facilities that house state inmates on an immediate lockdown.
The department has confirmed that some of the major disturbances are gang-related. MDOC said the identities of the gangs or security threat groups will not be released to the public for security purposes.
“There is a lot of misinformation fanning the flames of fear in the community at large, especially on social media,” Hall said. “Cellphones are contraband and have been instrumental in escalating the violence. I understand the public’s right and need to know, but my department will not rush to release information for the sake of perpetuating rumors. Contrary to what is being said, we are providing information. There is a process to releasing accurate information and that takes time.”
All movement at the three state prisons, three privately managed prisons, and 15 regional facilities is limited to emergencies only. Open bay housing units continue to be a challenge to manage at all facilities because inmates are not secured in single cells.
“The MDOC, private prison operators and sheriffs of the regionals are working together to make sure that facilities are as safe as possible because of the different housing structures,” Hall said. “Not everyone is locked in a cell.”
The Mississippi Department of Public Safety announced Friday that DPS officials are assisting MDOC due to the recent disturbances.
“DPS will continue to work diligently with the Mississippi Department of Corrections and will provide all available resources in order to bring resolution to this current situation,” said Commissioner Marshall Fisher. “Commissioner Hall and I are in communication regarding the situation and are closely monitoring gang-related issues that could be contributing factors.”
In addition to the lockdown and with the help of local and state law enforcement, the department also has moved inmates at Parchman to more secure housing units on prison grounds to contain the violence.
As investigations continue, once the identities of aggressors are known, the department will pursue criminal charges and any other available remedies to the full extent of the law, Hall said.