A sate penitentiary warning sign located near the community of Rome, Miss. Rome is located less than five miles from Parchman. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Disability Rights Mississippi filed a class action lawsuit Monday against the Mississippi Department of Corrections, Commissioner Burl Cain and the department’s contracted medical provider VitalCore Health Strategies, alleging “inhumane and discriminatory conditions and practices in correctional facilities.”

The lawsuit stated MDOC and VitalCore do not provide adequate medical and mental health care to people in prison, and they fail to provide people with disabilities in prison with proper accommodations and services “to which they are entitled under the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

Disability Rights Mississippi is a federally mandated nonprofit corporation that advocates for people with disabilities. The organization’s lawsuit detailed the experiences of 31 men and women with disabilities in prisons across Mississippi, including Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl, Wilkinson County Correctional Facility in Woodville, Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, South Mississippi Correctional Institution in Leakesville, George County Correctional Facility in Lucedale and the private prison East Mississippi Correctional Facility in Meridian.

“After years of monitoring visits, meetings with clients, and an intense year-long investigation, we can say with absolute certainty. People with disabilities who are incarcerated in Mississippi are suffering under the hand of the Mississippi Department of Corrections,” DRMS executive director Polly Tribble said in a statement.

One man in prison at CMCF in Pearl was held in solitary confinement 30 days after he made repeated requests for medical care and medication for a spinal injury which limits his mobility, requiring him to use a wheelchair, the lawsuit stated. While in solitary confinement, he was denied a shower for nearly three days, according to the lawsuit.

Another woman in CMCF who gave birth while in prison suffered a uterine prolapse, which now requires additional medical equipment, medical treatment and additional undergarments, all of which MDOC and VitalCore have refused to provide, the lawsuit alleged.

The lawsuit stated people in prison have been denied medical care, treatment and adequate assistance for issues related to bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, asthma, blindness, congestive heart failure, diabetes, prostate cancer, multiple sclerosis and many other chronic illnesses and disabilities.

“(MDOC and VitalCore) have failed to provide adequate care in approving medications, equipment, and treatment for those who are in their custody. Their practice of ignoring and/or refusing ‘sick calls’ and delaying outside appointments and follow-up examinations have resulted in worsening health conditions, further injury/sickness, and even deaths of MDOC inmates. The State of Mississippi pays hundreds of thousands of dollars to VitalCore for the provision of medical care to MDOC facilities. But, the result is questionable, at best,” the lawsuit stated.

The lawsuit also stated MDOC and VitalCore have “systematically discriminated” against people with disabilities in prison by not providing accessible facilities, safe environments, adequate services and programming for incarcerated people with disabilities. MDOC staff have often retaliated against and intimidated people with disabilities in prison, the lawsuit alleged.

“Offender(s)…who require the use of wheelchairs often are forced to pay other able-bodied offenders to assist them in navigating the bathroom/shower area,” the lawsuit stated.

The lawsuit requests that the court order MDOC and VitalCore to provide relief by increasing adequate correctional, medical, dental and mental health staffing, regularly screening for and responding to medical and mental health issues and offering appropriate accommodations for people with disabilities in prison.

“As Mississippi’s protection and advocacy agency for individuals with disabilities, DRMS is responsible for protecting the rights of all Mississippians with disabilities. And when we say all, we mean it,” Tribble said in the statement.

MDOC Assistant Deputy Commissioner Leo Honeycutt said the department cannot comment on pending litigation.

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Brittany Brown was Mississippi Today’s Justice Reporter, covering the state’s justice system with an eye for racial justice and inequity. Brittany formerly served as Mississippi Today's inaugural Emerging Reporters Fellow.