INTERNATIONAL GROUP PROTESTS INHUMANE CONDITIONS AT MISSISSIPPI STATE PRISON ************************************************** PARCHMAN, MS. - An international group of individuals from six different countries, including Germany and the U.K., have formed an organization to protest the inhumane conditions at the state penitentiary in Parchman, Mississippi. The group calls itself ICHIP, or, International Citizens for Humane Incarceration at Parchman. Though some members of ICHIP have friends or loved ones within Parchman, others joined after hearing of shocking human rights abuses within the prison.
The group recently expressed its concerns to Mississippi Department of Correction Commissioner Robert Johnson in a letter that described such deplorable conditions as insect and rodent infested cells, lack of proper medical and dental care, persistent flooding of feces and urine in cells and hallways, and lack of exercise - many inmates in Parchman have had no outside recreation in nearly a year. ICHIP members are now waiting to hear from Johnson whether they may tour the prison with members of the local press and Amnesty International.
"The most recent abuse," says ICHIP member Betsy Wolfenden, an attorney from North Carolina, "is that the prison is systematically removing all electrical outlets from the cells on Unit 32 of the prison which houses approximately 1,000 inmates." Previously the prisoners were allowed to purchase fans from the prison commissary. Without outlets to plug in the fans, the prisoners are left to swelter in 6 x 9 cells for 24 hours a day without any relief from the 100 degree temperatures.
"We are hearing frightening reports on a daily basis from prisoners who are unable to tolerate the extreme heat." (see excepts from prisoners' letters below). To protest the unbearable temperatures within the cells, a number of prisoners on Unit 32-C at Parchman resorted to a hunger strike until Warden W.L. Holman responded to their concerns. When Holman refused to meet with the prisoners, some of the inmates flooded their cells by allowing their toilets to overflow. One of the non-violent protestors was removed from his cell, pepper sprayed and beaten, and then thrown into "the hole" for eight days, according to first-hand reports coming out of the prison.
The American Correctional Association suggests summertime temperatures inside prisons should range from 66 to 80 degrees F. This summer, inmates at Florida's Union Correctional Institution that houses the state's death row commenced a class action suit protesting the heat that frequently exceeds 100 degrees inside the cells. ICHIP is also considering a legal remedy for the inmates in Parchman.
"The citizens of Mississippi should be ashamed that their tax dollars are supporting a facility where a stray dog wouldn't be housed overnight, let alone human beings serving lengthy prison sentences. Being removed from society is the punishment. Enduring degradation and human rights abuses on a daily basis that violate the Eighth Amendment is not supposed to be the punishment," states Wolfenden. **************************************************
The following excerpts are from letters written by prisoners housed at Parchman State Prison in Parchman, Mississippi:
".it has been so hot, I can only lay on the floor. I have asthma and take medication. It's hard to get to the clinic to see a doctor. I know people who have diabetes and X has lung problems. Man, it's so hot, I can't see straight..Parchman is insane."
"I am currently being housed in a Maximum Security Unit, which is Unit 32-C Building, Parchman MS. The unit itself sits out in the open, which means, the entire unit gets baked by the sun all day, making the building we live in like "hot boxes." Temperatures here reach 100 degrees a lot of days, so you can just imagine how hot it gets inside. The only thing prisoners have to escape the brutal heat is a fan which we can buy from canteen. Other then that, there is virtually no ventilation. Even with a small fan it's hard to breathe because of the intense heat. This is cruel and unusual punishment on all who are subjected to these elements. Recently they came through our building and stripped our power from each cell, leaving us with no way to run our fans. This was all we had left to try getting away from the heat. They have taken cruel and unusual punishment to it's fullest extent. It's unbearable to live this way and I'm truly afraid prisoners are going to die from the heat and lack of ventilation. Contrary to what people on the outside think, we prisoners here have nothing, no TV's, no radios, no air conditioning and all the other things that people think we have. Do not be deceived by such thoughts, I assure you this is not so, the only things we prisoners here in 32 have are what they give us which isn't much at all."
"....remember me telling you that we were being removed from our cells, taken to the holding tank and they installed screens on the windows? Well, X and others were having their power removed as well. After today (Aug.3), that entire zone will be power free. Before that, X and others planned to protest. Last Friday they came to X and told him to pack up so they could take him to the holding tank. He told them he wasn't going and others were supposed to do the same thing. Lt. Maxwell came and ordered him out of his cell and he refused so Maxwell ordered several guards to mace X. They all refused to do it. After no one would do it, Lt. Maxwell called up front and got permission to do it personally. So he maced X. After that, X allowed them to restrain him. His property was taken and he was taken to the clinic. While there, the lights were removed and the power was taken. They put him back in the same cell but this time he had no property or clothes. X and others decided over the weekend to start protesting. Some went on hunger strike; others were flooding the tier with their toilets. On the 31st, X set off a sprinkler in the hall. Him and others were standing and protesting. When Maxwell came, the others fell weak and X was the only one who stood strong. He allowed Maxwell to restrain him with leg irons and waist chains. He was moved to a cell with a steel door on it. As he was being brought over here where the steel doors are, Maxwell pulled him into the laundry room area, punched him a few times, and when he went down, he kicked him a few times. When he got on this zone, he yelled and let us know that Maxwell had jumped on him."