East Mississippi private prison lawsuit dismissed

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U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services

The federal courthouse in Jackson

A federal judge has dismissed a class-action lawsuit against the state of Mississippi over conditions at one of its privately-operated prisons.

The decision, released Tuesday, comes more than a year after a week-long trial regarding conditions at East Mississippi Correctional Facility in Meridian. Civil-liberty advocacy groups representing prisoners alleged that the conditions at the facility were so dangerous to prisoners that they violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Following the trial, U.S. District Judge William H. Barbour ordered conditions at the prison re-examined in August 2018. The state of Mississippi cited improvements to the facility and its management, including an increase in correctional officers and mandatory training for nursing staff.

“While Plaintiffs and their expert witnesses argue that the environment and healthcare services at the prison could and should be better, those arguments do not establish that the conditions under which they are currently housed, as a class, are cruel and unusual,” wrote Barbour in the opinion Tuesday.

The 1,500-bed facility in Meridian is designated to house the most severely mentally ill prisoners in the state; approximately 80 percent of the prisoners there have been diagnosed with a mental illness. The Utah-based company Management & Training Corp. currently manages the prison.

The lawsuit was filed in May 2013 after a two-year investigation by groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center. The case later was granted class-action status, with more than 1,100 members.

Corrections commissioner Pelicia Hall, who was named as a defendant in the suit, announced this week that she will resign in mid-January to take a job in the private sector.