MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Five deaths inside Mississippi prisons are under investigation after a week of violence behind bars. The latest death was a Mid-South man who confessed to family that he was scared.
The Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) released updated information Friday afternoon saying they believe some of the major disturbances are gang-related. They also said they believe the violence is being fanned by social media posts via cellphones, which are banned behind bars.
“Yesterday, that’s when he called, and he was devastated. And he was nervous. He wanted help right away,” said Janice Wilkins.
Wilkins said her son 36-year-old Denorris Howell reached out to family Thursday and said he was scared to stay in MSP Parchman Unit 29. By Friday morning, he was dead.
The Sunflower County coroner reported in a news release Howell was the victim in the altercation, sustaining a neck injury in a fight with his cellmate.
Wilkins said she got a call from the prison chaplain regarding her son’s death but containing no other details.
“The past 24 hours for me has been really terrible. Overwhelming. Hard to deal with. My anxiety level is sky high,” she said.
Five people have died in violence in Mississippi prisons statewide this week. Three of those deaths occurred at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.
Officials with MDOC said one of those deaths is not believed to be connected to the other disturbances, and officials at Parchman have moved inmates to more secure areas to try and contain the violence. Commissioner Pelicia Hall called it a “trying time” for the department.
Mississippi Governor-Elect Tate Reeves wrote on Twitter that he was briefed by MDOC Friday afternoon, saying restoring order and safety is the first priority.
“Grateful to those working to restore order and safety. That is the first priority,” the Tweets read, “Then we need answers and justice on the people who perpetrated this violence. Any loss of life is tragic and must be addressed. There is much work to be done in our correctional system.”
Denorris Howell was serving his time for a manslaughter conviction in Marshall County back in 2012. His family said he’s secured early release, and records online show he would’ve gotten out in 2025. Now his loved ones and his four children are planning his funeral.
“Regardless, everybody in there is somebody’s child,” said Howell’s cousin, Jamarcuis Lesure, “Nobody deserves to be treated that way. Nobody.”
Governor-Elect Tate Reeves takes office in roughly two weeks.
WMC Action News 5 reached out to current Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant for comment today on the prison situation, but we did not hear back. Current MDOC Commissioner Pelicia Hall is exiting her role in mid-January.