DOC identifies 12th prisoner to die in state custody this month

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The Department of Corrections has named the prisoner who died in custody Monday, marking the twelfth inmate death this month.

Troy Pittman, 59, was pronounced dead at 1 a.m. on Aug. 27 at Promise Hospital in Vicksburg, the department’s website shows. The manner and the cause of death are pending an autopsy.

Pittman was housed at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin County. He was sentenced on April 13, 2000 in Alcorn County to 30 years for two counts of sexual battery and sexual assault.

Pittman’s death makes August one of the most fatal months for Mississippi prisoners in recent years. According to documents provided by MDOC, more state prisoners have died this month than in any other month between the years of 2012 and 2017.

Another CMCF inmate, Nicole Marie Rathman, 33, died Aug. 23 at Merit Health Central in Jackson. Rathman, who was five years into a 10-year sentence for selling methamphetamine, was the first woman to die in MDOC custody this month. Her manner and cause of death is also pending autopsy.

The state’s crime lab backlog has also slowed autopsy results down to a trickle, leaving prisoners’ families and the public with few answers as to causes of death. 

In a news release, corrections commissioner Pelicia Hall said that the “number of deaths the department is reporting is not out of line with the number of deaths in previous months.”

“However, the department appreciates the concern from the public and remains committed to transparency,” Hall said in the statement. “As such, the department has been the first source to make certain information about deaths available to the general public.”

Hall added that based on current information available, “the department believes that a majority of the deaths are from natural causes in that they include cancer, coronary, and other medical conditions. The incarcerated 19,000-plus individuals tend to mirror the free world in that people from all walks of life and with all types of pre-existing conditions enter the prison system daily.”

Mississippi Today analysis of data provided by MDOC found that at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman, the state’s largest prison, has had a higher mortality rate than the general public in recent years.

A total of five CMCF inmates have died so far this month. Of the 12 deaths, 11 of those prisoners were housed at the state’s three main prisons. Another, Nija Syvallus Bonhomme, 24, who was also the youngest inmate to die in August, was serving time at Wilkinson County Correctional Facility, which is managed by the private company MTC.