State eyes other uses for former Walnut Grove prison

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Walnut Grove Correctional Facility is now shuttered, but the state Department of Corrections is eyeing different uses for the troubled former prison.

This summer, prison officials announced the decision to close Walnut Grove, which until December 2012 housed children convicted of felonies and was the subject of a lawsuit over conditions there.

Options for the former prison include an alternative to incarceration, for re-entry or as a center for technical parole violations.

In a news release, state corrections officials said the state’s prisons will focus on rehabilitation and the large number of incarcerated people with mental illnesses.

Marshall L. Fisher, MDOC commissioner

MDOC

Marshall L. Fisher, Dept. of Corrections commissioner

“We do not intend for the Walnut Grove site to go unused,” Commissioner Marshall Fisher said through a press release. “Just as we have formed a partnership with the Mississippi Department of Mental Health to assist us in supervising mentally ill inmates both inside and outside prison, we are strongly pursuing other ways to help inmates re-enter their communities in a meaningful way and remain out of prison.”

Fisher’s agency reports some 3,194 mentally ill inmates are housed in state prisons. Some 15,000 of those held report substance abuse, including drug and alcohol use.

The Corrections Department transferred the last of about 900 inmate to other state prisons last week.

Fisher said the decision had nothing to do with the federal Bureau of Prison’s recent move to suspend the practice of using private companies to operate its facilities. In a report, the Justice Department cited a 2012 riot at a private prison in Natchez that resulted in a guard’s death.

“MDOC’s decision to close Walnut Grove is in no way connected to the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision nor is the closure the result of any advocacy group’s ‘victory’,” Fisher said. “When the prison closed, significant improvements had been made under Management & Training Corporation, and juvenile offenders were no longer being housed there. We believe enough significant improvements had been made that the consent decree providing oversight was no longer needed.”

Walnut Grove was run by Utah-based private contractor Management & Training Corp., which holds contracts for three other state prisons. Tennessee-based Corrections Corporation of America operates the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Tutwiler on behalf of the state of California.