MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - “I’ve been appalled by the things that I’ve learned in the last week.”
Those words from newly elected Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves after he took a tour of Parchman prison on Thursday.
The governor posted photos to his Twitter account after visiting the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman in Sunflower County and the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility in Leake County.
Both prisons were recently rocked by deadly violence.
Ten inmates died in the last month, including eight at Parchman.
Attorneys for Memphis rapper Yo Gotti and music executive Jay-Z sued on behalf of 29 inmates, alleging inhumane treatment and a dangerous environment in the state’s prisons.
Governor Reeves said maintenance teams have been deployed to make immediate repairs and to improve the living conditions.
He pledged full transparency as the state addresses its problem-plagued prison system.
“I’m not here to make excuses and empty promises,” he said. “The issues that happened didn’t happen overnight. And they won’t be fixed overnight. It will be a long road, but we are making progress to restore Mississippians’ trust in the system.”
The governor says all wardens and deputy wardens are working 12-hour shifts at Parchman to make sure senior leadership is on the grounds at all time.
Prison guards are being screened for any gang affiliation. He ordered a crackdown on contraband, weapons and cell phones. And an MBI agent has been assigned to Parchman to uncover criminal activity among inmates or employees.
“I’m proud of the potential I’ve seen from many of the people working to rebuild,” said Reeves. “We’ve still got a long way to go, but I can tell you with confidence everyone in our administration is taking this very, very seriously.”
Reeves said opening other facilities and moving some of the inmates is an option under consideration. But it’s one that would require a trip to the state legislature to request more funding for the prison system, a system that corrections officials have said for years is desperately underfunded. The governor declined to talk about his role in setting prison budgets during his eight years as Lt. Governor of Mississippi. He said his focus is not on looking back, but focusing on fixing problems going forward.
“A lot of these things will seem like common sense,” he said. “And that’s because they are. They’ve been needed for a long time, but we are starting from where we are.”