JACKSON, miss. (WLBT) – Disability Rights Mississippi (DRMS) has filed a lawsuit against the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) for inhumane and discriminatory conditions and practices in correctional facilities.
In the complaint filed on Monday, DRMS is seeking help on behalf of persons with disabilities in MDOC custody who have suffered from the MDOC’s failure to provide adequate medical and mental health care in correctional facilities.
The complaint also outlines how MDOC violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act 1973 by failing to provide accommodation and services to persons with disabilities in MDOC custody.
The complaint describes how “conditions at [MDOC] Institutions are so serious and barbaric that people in these institutions are exposed to the immediate risk of considerable damage on a daily basis in violation of their constitutional rights. “
DRMS claims that the MDOC’s deliberate indifference to the basic medical and mental health needs of those in its custody amounts to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Nathan “Burl” Cain, in his official capacity as MDOC Commissioner, and VitalCore Health Strategies LLC, the contracted medical service provider for MDOC, are also named as defendants in the lawsuit.
DRMS, the state advocacy group for people with disabilities, has extensively monitored MDOC facilities, namely the Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman), the South Mississippi Correctional Institution (SMCI), and the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (CMCF).
DRMS has reported concerns about the catastrophic conditions at these facilities – and the legal consequences of failing to address these violations – to the MDOC and government officials, who have responded with silence and inaction.
“For people with disabilities, incarceration in an MDOC facility can be tantamount to a death sentence,” said Polly Tribble, DRMS executive director. “The appalling conditions and treatments in MDOC facilities are a human rights crisis. How can we expect incarceration to be an opportunity for reform and rehabilitation when these individuals in MDOC custody are suffering from a continual deterioration in their basic humanity? “
Sometimes disabled offenders do not have access to basic human needs such as shower or toilet due to inaccessible MDOC facilities. DRMS research has shown that the MDOC guards not only failed to intervene when perpetrators had raised thoughts of suicide, they also encouraged them to follow the thoughts.
“In a tragic circle of events, MDOC denies people with mental disabilities the drugs they need to treat their mental illness and then punishes those with mental symptoms with retaliatory measures such as solitary confinement, which further exacerbates those problems,” said Greta Kemp Martin, DRMS litigator.
The complaint goes on to describe how inadequate health care and dangerous conditions have increased the risk for those in MDOC custody in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. DRMS surveillance found that although a variety of organizations donated face masks to the MDOC for distribution to detainees, the MDOC only gave masks to staff. Instead of masks, the perpetrators wore underwear and dirty shirts around their faces.
The lawsuit was filed with the United States District Court in the Southern District of Mississippi (Northern.) [Jackson] Classification). The case was assigned to Judge Carlton W. Reeves.
“The MDOC and the government had every opportunity to respond to these atrocities,” Tribble said. “Instead, they turned their backs on their responsibilities and blamed everyone but themselves. The systemic failure of the state to fulfill its constitutional obligations towards the people with disabilities in its care cannot be denied. Now she has to face the consequences of her inaction. “
WLBT reached out to MDOC officials to respond to the lawsuit. Spokesman Leo Honeycutt said MDOC Legal had to look into the lawsuit before commenting on it.
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