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Multiple Mississippi prisons controlled by gangs and violence, DOJ report says

Three Mississippi prisons that house about 7,200 people are controlled by gangs and rife with violence, violating the constitutional rights of people incarcerated at all three facilities, a scathing Department of Justice report said.

The report found violence, gang control and trafficking of contraband had been happening inside the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, South Mississippi Correctional Institution, and Wilkinson County Correctional Facility for years. Investigators concluded that the Mississippi Department of Corrections failed to protect inmates from physical violence and adequately supervise incarcerated inmates. Instead, corrections increased the use of solitary confinement which increased harm for the inmates, the report released Wednesday found.

"Our investigation uncovered chronic, systemic deficiencies that create and perpetuate violent and unsafe environments for people incarcerated at these three Mississippi facilities," said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division in a statement after concluding its four-year investigation.

CBS News has reached out to the Mississippi Department of Corrections for comment.

The prisons are egregiously understaffed and as a result "gangs dominate much of prison life, and contraband and violence, including sexual violence, proliferate." Central Mississippi's Chief CID investigator estimated that "between 20% and 40% of the population at Central Mississippi have a gang affiliation."

Even though the Mississippi Department of Corrections knows there is widespread violence within these facilities they do not "take reasonable measures to prevent well-known, widespread violence at Central Mississippi, South Mississippi, and Wilkinson," the report said.

Assaults and violence happen frequently at the facilities with the Central Mississippi facility reporting an assault every other day over a nearly two-year period. South Mississippi had nearly 100 reported assaults or fights, of which about 40 resulted in outside hospitalization, from June 2020 through June 2022, the report said. And in Wilkinson prison, most of the inmates spend 23 hours a day locked in their cells 23 hours a day due to ongoing violence.

The report documented many incidents of unchecked violence. One incident included reports of 34 inmates at Central Mississippi having a gang altercation "with make-shift weapons that included broomsticks, crutches, shanks, and a microwave."

Others included inmates punching a victim in the face repeatedly, beating with mop and broom handles, stabbings with shanks, and other homemade weapons. The report also included various incidents of sexual violence – with most of the violence occurring without security or correctional guards intervening. 

Staff at Central Mississippi told investigators that gangs were a "government within the facility," with one coordinator saying gangs have complete control of the prison dormitories.

There is also a huge influx of trafficked contraband, such as drugs and cell phones, into the prison system. One supervisor at Wilkinson reported that in a single month in 2022, they recovered "28 grams of crystal meth, 8–9 ounces of marijuana, and 10 cell phones."

The Department of Justice launched its investigation into four Mississippi prisons in 2020 after reports about correction conditions in the state. Findings on conditions at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, known as Parchman, were released in April 2022. 

The Department of Justice said in a statement now that the investigations into the prisons are complete the next goal "is to work with Mississippi to resolve the identified constitutional violations and implement change."

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