Friday, May 23, 2003

Has this judge seen the rest of Mississippi?

Judge Orders Reforms on Miss.'s Death Row


....A federal judge ruled that life on Mississippi's death row is so harsh and filthy that inmates are being driven insane, and ordered reforms that advocates praised as a precedent-setting breakthrough in prisoners' rights.

U.S. Magistrate Jerry Davis found Wednesday that the way inmates are treated at the Parchman prison constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

"No one in a civilized society should be forced to live under conditions that force exposure to another person's bodily wastes," Davis wrote in his decision. "No matter how heinous the crime committed, there is no excuse for such living conditions."

The judge instructed the state Corrections Department to undertake 10 actions to improve conditions including annual mental health checkups, better lighting, improved toilets, insect control and ways to keep inmates cool during the summer heat.

...Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps, who has said he does not consider Mississippi's death row any worse than others across the country, said he will meet with Davis next week to challenge some orders and seek clarification on others.

"The Mississippi Department of Corrections respectfully disagrees with Judge Davis' findings," said Epps.

He shrugged off the allegations that something had to be done about sweltering prison cells. "It's hot in the Delta," he said. (Ed. Note: It sure as hell is.)

Sixty-six inmates are on death row at Parchman and a woman under a death sentence is at a women's prison unit outside Jackson.

They have complained about stifling heat and lack of ventilation. Davis said that if the heat index exceeds 90 degrees, each cell must be equipped with a fan, and ice water and showers must be made available to the inmates.

The judge said officials also should provide sneakers and a shaded area with access to water for exercise. Currently, inmates wear prison-issued flip-flops in individual pens for exercise.