In this March 20, 2019, photo, a watch tower stands high on the grounds of the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Incarcerated women are being moved from the state’s designated women’s prison in central Mississippi to a formerly decommissioned prison in the Delta more than a hundred miles away. 

Nearly 300 women at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl have been relocated to the Delta Correctional Facility in Greenwood. The Mississippi Department of Corrections plans to move all the women to Delta Correctional by March 1. 

Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain said the goal is to get them into a better environment with school, skills training and treatment. 

“We were running short of beds for women,” he told Mississippi Today. “So by moving 300 to Delta, it helped expand the population. It’s about beds and how we use beds.”

The relocation comes months after the women were told about MDOC’s plans to move them from their longtime housing in the 1A Yard at CMCF to 720, a men’s unit near the back of the prison. Some objected to the decision and wrote letters circulated in the prison and delivered to state senators with the help of their families.

Another reason for the move to Delta Correctional was to keep women and men separate at CMCF. 

Some advocates see the move to the Delta as harmful for women and their families. 

Pauline Rogers, president of religious reentry nonprofit the RECH Foundation, said she started receiving phone calls before Thanksgiving from women who were moved to Delta Correctional. 

Family members of the incarcerated women she has spoken with aren’t happy about the move either. 

“It’s pushing families far away and women far away from their children,” Rogers said. 

For those who are upset about the change, Cain said there is going to be an adjustment period. To those who have called in, he said MDOC has explained how the move is for the women’s benefit and plans for programs and education at Delta Correctional. 

Burl Cain responds to a reporter’s question after being introduced by Gov. Tate Reeves as the new commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections during his daily coronavirus update for media in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, May 20, 2020. Cain was warden at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, which is commonly known as Angola, for 21 years. Credit: Rogelio V. Solis / Associated Press

When he visited the Delta prison this week, Cain said the women can see that MDOC cares about teaching them skills and trades to help when they leave prison. He also said he spoke with women still at CMCF and they seem ready for the move. 

“I think there’s pride in them having their prison and own place,” Cain said. 

Family members have also said their incarcerated loved ones have had items such as personal hygiene taken away, Rogers said. 

Cain said as long as the items were on the list of allowable items, they could be taken to Delta Correctional. The canteen will be available to supply any other goods if needed, he said. 

All MDOC prisons have a medical provider on site, but if someone needed to be transported to a hospital, the closest would be Greenwood Leflore Hospital – which is on the brink of closing. 

Cain said the women’s medical access would be the same as the residents of Greenwood. About 50 women with medical issues that the prison medical services couldn’t handle were moved back to CMCF, he said. 

Delta Correctional closed in 2012 after operating as a private prison. It reopened as a community work center to house probationers and parolees who violate supervision terms under an alternative sanction program, according to an MDOC press release from 2018. 

The restitution and work center services will be relocated elsewhere, Cain said. Staff from the center now work at the prison, and he hopes to hire people from the Greenwood area, including people who can supervise prison programming.  

Cain has plans for Delta Correctional.

“It’s going to be focused on reentry, skills and trade and they are going to be busy as they can be going to school,” he said. 

Culinary arts and landscaping programs, cleaning service training and a greenhouse are expected to come to Delta Correctional along with alcohol and drug treatment, clubs and services such as a hair salon. 

There will also be air conditioning, which Cain said isn’t yet available at CMCF. The Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman was the first prison to have air conditioning installed this past summer. 

Before the women arrived, the roof at Delta Correctional was repaired and the kitchen and showers received updates, Cain said. 

Despite plans for what MDOC plans to do at the prison, Rogers worries that putting women in a distressed environment like the Delta will move them away from resources like programming, activities and treatment programs and access to those resources. 

“It’s hard to move a population with nothing,” she said. “You’re moving them from everything to nothing.” 

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Mina, a California native, covers the criminal justice system. Before joining Mississippi Today, she was a reporter for the Clarion Ledger and newspapers in Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and USA Today.