The voices of many concerned citizens were loud and clear — and now, an investigation into Mississippi prisons has begun.
The U.S. Department of Justice has opened a civil rights investigation into four Mississippi prisons which have made headlines as of late, reports FOX13.
The federal entity will probe the conditions of Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl, Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, South Mississippi Correctional Institution in Leakesville and Wilkinson County Correctional Facility. This comes on the heels of Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves shutting down the notorious Unit 29 at Parchman, as Blavity previously reported. Throughout January, nine people died by suicide or altercations that ensued in the facility.
Since December 29, 15 individuals in state custody have died, reports NPR.
Rappers and philanthropists Yo Gotti and Jay-Z have also urged Reeves to declare a state of emergency and address the catastrophe happening in Mississippi prisons, as Blavity previously reported. The duo also filed a lawsuit on behalf of the prisoners against the leader of the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, in a letter addressed to the Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division, Eric Dreiband, petitioned the DOJ to investigate the state's prisons. Several civil rights groups have also co-signed the letter.
State Rep. Michael Guest also chimed in and shared his thoughts about the conditions of prisons in Mississippi.
"There was also supposed to be a component for job trainings in prisons, dealing with things to make sure people who are incarcerated had access to schools, GED programs, college credits, drug and alcohol [rehabilitation programs]. There was supposed to be transitional beds, so we could transition people from incarceration into public life. And I think that we have not done a good job of prioritizing that," Guest said. "We continue to do a good job of keeping people locked up, but we’re not providing them the skills to be successful when they get out."
The DOJ is overseeing the investigation under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA). The directive gives the go-ahead to probe violations of the offenders' constitutional rights, reports Mississippi Today.
"The investigation will focus on whether the Mississippi Department of Corrections adequately protects prisoners from physical harm at the hands of other prisoners at the four prisons, as well as whether there is adequate suicide prevention, including adequate mental health care and appropriate use of isolation, at Parchman," the Justice Department iterated in a statement released Wednesday.
The most recent investigation isn't the first time the Mississippi prison system has been challenged due to the treatment of incarcerated persons and the conditions of its facilities. In 2015, a class-action lawsuit was filed against the East Mississippi Correctional Facility. The American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Poverty Law Center and others stated that conditions have long violated standards.
"Plaintiffs ... allege that the conditions under which they are confined violate their Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment," a portion of the lawsuit reads.
Reeves' administration approves the recent probe.
"We are grateful that President Trump’s administration has taken a focused interest in criminal justice reform and that they care enough about Mississippi to engage on this critical issue," Renae Eze, a spokesperson for Reeves, said in a statement released to New York Times.
Civil rights investigations have been scarce since Trump became president.
Particulars of the inquiry have not been released, according to the DOJ website.
Gov. Reeves continues to search for a new prison commissioner.