JACKSON, Miss. (WMC) - For hours Friday, protesters stood at the Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson vowing their voices would be heard, rallying for change at the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
The massive rally follows weeks of violence inside Mississippi prisons, where ten inmates have died. The conditions inside the prisons have made national news, and the rally Friday had some star power behind it. One of the organizers was Team ROC, the philanthropic group of Yo Gotti and Jay Z.
The hip-hop stars did not attend the rally, even though they have filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of some inmates.
“Shut it down. Shut it down. Shut it down, now,” one speaker said.
Attendees made their demands clear. Those rallying to draw attention to Mississippi’s corrections crisis said MSP- Parchman should be closed.
“Free my brothers at Parchman,” said another speaker. “Those men are somebody’s brother, husband, father and son.”
Since this time last month, 10 MDOC inmates have died. Eight of those were housed at MSP-Parchman. Many of the deaths were the result of violence, though some have been attributed to natural causes or suicide.
“Our government is accountable to us, and they must answer us,” said Danyelle Holmes, with the MS Prison Reform Coalition. “And we demand answers.”
State Democratic lawmakers said Friday staff shortages and low pay have made Parchman and other prisons in the state dangerous for guards and inmates amid years of under-funding and neglect.
“The toilets full of waste. The plumbing torn out of the wall,” said Representative Robert Johnson, House Democratic leader. “You got people working in there, women working two women to 128 people in prison. That’s not how you run anything.”
Former Lieutenant Governor, now Governor, Tate Reeves toured Parchman Thursday and announced a crackdown on contraband cell phones. Reeves said maintenance crews would begin work on the prison, and guards would be screened for any gang affiliation. Reeves also ordered MDOC to be more transparent about deadly incidents in the prison system.
Reeves was sworn in roughly a week and a half ago.
“'I’ve been appalled by the things that I’ve learned in the last week but proud of the potential that I’ve seen from many of the people working to rebuild,” he said. “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 announced last week the state has launched a nationwide search for a new director of MDOC.