Mississippi to Close Its Notorious “Unit 32,” in Agreement with ACLU
As the inestimable V. O. Key, Jr., once wrote, “Northerners, provincials that they are, regard the South as one large Mississippi. Southerners, with their eye for distinction, place Mississippi in a class by itself.” (Though I live in California at the moment, I’m a Southerner by birth and upbringing, so I think I’m allowed to quote that.) For decades, Mississippi’s Parchman Farm penitentiary has been home to a prison wing “in a class by itself” — the infamous “Unit 32,” a place defined by incessant howling, recurrent violence, broken plumbing, and 120-degree heat (indoors). And who, you might ask, was housed in this unit? As the ACLU found:
Though characterized as being the “worst of the worst,” a significant percentage of Unit 32’s prisoners were held there only because they had HIV, were seriously mentally ill or needed protective custody. They were permanently locked down in solitary confinement with no possibility of earning their way to a less restrictive environment through good behavior.
In response to litigation pressure from the ACLU, the Magnolia State has now agreed to shutter this unit for good (or at least for now). Since the ACLU filed suit in 2002, the Mississippi Department of Corrections has reduced the population in Unit 32 from over 1,000 to just 150. As reported by the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, the remaining prisoners will now be transferred to other divisions of Parchman or, in the case of seriously mentally ill prisoners, to a private psychiatric facility in Meridian. Prison reform is not often a happy topic, but I think we can all celebrate the closure of Unit 32.
- ACLU agreement to dismiss its lawsuit against the MDOC
- Scholarly article on how MDOC downsized its solitary confinement unit (PDF)
- Pew Center memo on some other recent sentencing reforms enacted in Mississippi