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Inmates deserve to be treated fairly.

There’s been a recent increase in the number of deaths happening in Mississippi prisons. So far, 12 inmates have passed in 2020, and nine of these deaths happened in the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, according to The New York Times. Only one of these was determined to have been a suicide, while the others were caused by altercations between inmates. There have also been multiple stabbings and beatings that have claimed the lives of prisoners. 

With the shocking death rates being brought to light, citizens are looking at state officials to take action. Governor Tate Reeves responded to a tweet with news of the two most recent deaths and stated that the Mississippi Department of Corrections is attempting to “respond immediately and prevent this going forward.” He even concluded the tweet by stating, “We have asked [Mississippi Department of Corrections] to provide as much information to the public as possible as quickly as possible. Transparency is the first step.” 

However, no matter how transparent MDOC is, people may have negative opinions of inmates and may not consider it their problem. 

The issue with prison reform is that some people believe those in prison deserve to be there. Although doing time for committing a crime is a fair argument, the line gets blurred when doing time involves inhumane living conditions and life-threatening situations. With those repercussions of prison life, the inmate is often not simply serving his or her time; They’re fighting to stay alive. Nonviolent offenders are treated just as harshly as violent ones. Over 1.6 million people are arrested for drugs each year and most are sentenced to harsh and unfair punishments. 

Parchman has its fair share of violent stories throughout history. During the late 19th century, African Americans were often the targets of cruel punishment given by police. Suspects were arrested for crimes such as theft, gambling and traveling without a work permit but were given extremely harsh punishments that often included slave labor. Prisoners often had to sleep on the floor and were beaten frequently by officers. It wasn’t until 1971 that reform finally began taking place. However, these reforms couldn’t change the mentality of prisoners. 

The deaths at Parchman represent the harmful consequences that occur when prisons focus on punishment instead of rehabilitation. Enforcing rules with violence instead of teaching obedience will cause inmates to use violence against one another. Without hope or a light at the end of the tunnel, prisoners won’t care about leaving prison. That mentality will cause more violence and many more deaths. The murder of inmate Albert Dorsey on September 14th, was the fourth homocide at Hardeman County Correctional Facility in Tennesee. This private prison has 30% of recorded Tennessee homicides in prison. However, this small prison only holds 9% of inmates in Tennessee. There’s an obvious need for reform at prisons with statistics and reputations like Hardeman and Parchman. 

Reform is achievable. Through education of all those involved in the criminal system, administrators could show a clear line between punishment and rehabilitation. Punishment will only cause more pain, which escalates into violence. Guards need to be more aware of their inmates and choose to help them through the prison system. Inmate versus inmate violence doesn’t necessarily stem from inmates having issues but rather inmates feeling like they need to take control. Control can come in many different forms, and it’s important for guards and administrators to be educated enough to gain control over inmates without inflicting force.

The waterfall of violence begins with the attitude of citizens outside the prison walls. Reform can’t begin inside prisons it needs to come from everyday people. Citizens must realize those behind bars are still people who have relationships with people on the outside. Those dying in Mississippi prisons are someone’s parent, son, daughter or cousin, not just inmates.

Government and administrators must see this harmful pattern and prevent it from happening again, whether it’s in Mississippi or any other prison in the country. 

Megan Klepper is a senior, writing, rhetoric and technical communication major. Contact Megan at kleppemc@dukes.jmu.edu.