JACKSON, MS — FWD.us Mississippi State Director Alesha Judkins issued the following statement today after the death of an incarcerated person who tested positive for coronavirus at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman:
“The recent death of an incarcerated person who tested positive for COVID-19 at the Mississippi State Penitentiary is a tragedy, and our thoughts are with their family and loved ones. This tragic loss of life reinforces the need for immediate, bold action to protect people incarcerated in our jails and prisons amid this health crisis: people’s lives are at stake. Now more than ever, Mississippi lawmakers must prioritize addressing our state’s incarceration crisis, reduce the dangerously high number of people behind bars, and provide ways for them to return home safely.
“Mississippi’s coronavirus outbreak continues to worsen, with thousands of confirmed cases and nearly 100 deaths statewide, and we now know that the pandemic has reached our prisons. People locked up in America’s jails and prisons generally have increased underlying chronic health issues, are unable to access even the most basic medical care, and cannot practice social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus. And, it’s no secret that most jails and prisons have struggled to meet very basic hygiene standards. Making matters worse, Mississippi has relied on extreme sentencing for decades, resulting in an increasing elderly population in prisons – a population we know is among the most vulnerable to the virus.
“Lawmakers and elected officials must take swift action to reduce the state’s dangerously high prison population safely. While the legislative session is suspended, we urge the Governor to use administrative powers like parole and commutation to allow people to return home to their families where they can practice social distancing. When the session reconvenes, we encourage legislators to take up existing criminal justice reform bills swiftly, like HB 1024, SB 2123, and HB 1377. These bills, which limit harmful habitual sentencing laws and expand parole eligibility, are more necessary than ever as we face a global public health crises that puts incarcerated people at increased risk for illness and death.”
Recent data shows Mississippi has climbed up the list of the top imprisoning states, moving from number three to the second highest imprisoner in the nation. Mississippi’s incarceration crisis stems from decades of failed policies, including extreme sentencing due in part to the state’s habitual laws, inflexible parole statutes, and more. Ongoing preventable deaths at Parchman and across the Mississippi prison system make even clearer that Mississippi needs bold criminal justice reform.
Recent national polling shows that 66% of likely voters, including 59% who identify as “very conservative,” believe elected officials should be working to reduce overcrowding in prisons and jails as a response to the coronavirus pandemic.