Friday, 9 September 2011

Mississippi State Penitentiary

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—  Unincorporated community  —
Mississippi State Penitentiary
Entrance to the Mississippi State Penitentiary
Parchman is located in Mississippi
Location within the state of Mississippi
Coordinates: 33°55′04″N 90°29′47″W / 33.91778°N 90.49639°W / 33.91778; -90.49639Coordinates: 33°55′04″N 90°29′47″W / 33.91778°N 90.49639°W / 33.91778; -90.49639
Country United States
State Mississippi
County Sunflower
Elevation 144 ft (44 m)
Time zone Central (CST) (UTC-6)
 - Summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5)
ZIP codes 38738
Area code(s) 662
FIPS code
GNIS feature ID 675442[1]
Mississippi State Penitentiary (MSP), also known as Parchman Farm, is the oldest prison and the only maximum security prison for men in the state of Mississippi, USA.
The Mississippi Department of Corrections facility is located on about 18,000 acres (7,300 ha) in unincorporated Sunflower County,[2][3] and was established in 1901.
It has beds for 4,840 inmates. Inmates work on the prison farm and in manufacturing workshops. It holds male offenders classified at all custody levels — A and B custody (minimum and medium security) and C and D custody (maximum security). It also houses the male death row — all male offenders sentenced to death in Mississippi are held in MSP's Unit 29. Parchman is not designated to house female offenders - Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, also the location of the female death row, is the only state prison in Mississippi designated as a place for female prisoners.[2]
References. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (July 2010)
The original warden's residence at MSP
After December 31, 1894, prisoners sentenced by the State of Mississippi could no longer be hired or leased by third parties. After the convict leasing system ended, the State of Mississippi began to acquire property to build its own correctional facilities.[4] In 1900 the Mississippi State Legislature appropriated US$80,000 for the purchase of the Parchman Plantation, a 3,789-acre (1,533 ha) property in Sunflower County.[5] What is now the prison property was located at a railroad spur called "Gordon Station."[6]
The Government of Mississippi purchased land in Sunflower County with the intent of establishing a prison there in January 1901.[7] In 1901 four stockades were constructed, and the state moved prisoners to begin clearing land for crop cultivation.[5] The land was undeveloped Mississippi Delta forest.[4] The prison was nicknamed "Parchman" after Warden J. M. "Jim" Parchman. Around the time of MSP's opening, Sunflower County residents objected to having executions performed at MSP because they feared that Sunflower County would be stigmatized as a "death county." Therefore the State of Mississippi originally performed executions of condemned criminals in their counties of conviction.[8]
The Mississippi Department of Archives and History said that MSP "was in many ways reminiscent of a gigantic antebellum plantation and operated on the basis of a plan proposed by Governor John M. Stone in 1896."[7] In the fiscal year 1905, Parchman's first year of operations, the State of Mississippi earned $185,000 (over $4.6 million in 2009 dollars) from Parchman's operations.[9]
Originally Parchman was one of two prisons designated for young, black men, with the other prisons housing other racial and gender groups.[10] In 1908 a tornado struck Camp 1, causing no injuries and $10,000 in damages.[11]
In 1909 the State of Mississippi acquired 2,000 acres (810 ha) adjacent to the MSP territory, resulting in MDOC having 15,789 acres (6,390 ha) of land in the Mississippi Delta.[10] As time passed, the state began to consolidate most penal operations in Parchman, making other camps hold minor support roles, with Parchman being the main prison.[12] In 1916 MDOC bought the O'Keefs Plantation in Quitman County, near Lambert. Originally this plantation was a separate institution, the Lambert Farm.[10] The facility later became Camp B. In 1917 the Parchman property had been fully cleared, and the administration divided the facility into a series of camps, housing black and white prisoners of both genders.[12] By 1917 12 male camps and one female camp were established, and racial segregation was of the institution's highest priorities. The institution became the main hub of activity for Mississippi's prison system.[7]
In 1937 the prison had 1,989 inmates.[13]
The original MSP Camp One
Around the 1950s residents of Sunflower County were still opposed to the concept of housing the execution chamber at MSP. In September 1954, Governor Hugh L. White called for a special session of the Mississippi Legislature to discuss the application of the death penalty.[8] During that year, a gas chamber serving as an execution chamber was installed at MSP. The gas chamber replaced an electric chair which, between 1940 and February 5, 1952, had been moved from county to county to execute condemned prisoners. The first person to die in the gas chamber was Gearald A. Gallego, who was executed on March 3, 1955.[14]

[edit] Parchman Farm and the freedom riders

In the spring of 1961, Freedom Riders (civil rights activists) went to the American South to test the desegregation of public facilities. By the end of June, 163 Freedom Riders had been convicted in Jackson and many were jailed in Parchman.[15] On June 15, 1961 the first set of Freedom Riders were sent from Hinds County Prison to Parchman. The first group sent to the farm were 45 male Freedom Riders, 29 blacks accompanied by 16 whites.[16]
The prison authorities forced the freedom riders to remove their clothing and undergo strip searches. After the strip searches, a man named Deputy Tyson met the freedom riders and began intimidating them.[17] He began by mocking the Freedom Ride, being quoted saying "y’all all a time wanna march someplace. Well y’all gon’ march right now, right t’yo cells. An’ ahm gon’ lead ya. Follow me. Ah’m Martinlutherking."[18] The guards at Parchman Farm were relentless even after all of this mockery.
When taken to the cells and given clothing they were made sure to be kept as uncomfortable as possible. The Freedom Riders were given clothing that did not fit. Along with that, they were not allowed items such as pencils and paper.[19] David Fankhauser, a Freedom Rider at Parchman Farm, was quoted saying, “In our cells, we were given a bible, an aluminum cup and a tooth brush. The cell measured 6 x 8 feet with a toilet and sink on the back wall, and a bunk bed. We were permitted one shower per week, and no mail was allowed. The policy in the maximum security block was to keep lights on 24 hours a day. “.[19] The food was less than desirable as well. Frankhauser said, ": Breakfast every morning was black coffee strongly flavored with chicory, grits, biscuits and blackstrap molasses. Lunch was generally some form of beans or black-eyed peas boiled with pork gristle, served with cornbread. In the evening, it was the same as lunch except it was cold." .[19]
As time wore on the Governor of Mississippi, Ross Barnett, visited the farm a few times. He would give various instructions to the guards to, "break their spirit, not their bones".[20] The Governor took precautionary actions with the Freedom Riders. He made sure they were away from all other inmates and were kept in maximum security cells. With that order given, the Freedom Riders were stuck in the cell for the most part with not a lot to do. Singing was reintroduced, a tactic used in previous jailing situations.[citation needed]
The prisoners sang various songs to irritate Tyson and the other guards. Tyson attempted many types of tactics to stop the singing. They took their mattresses and bug screens to attempt to get the prisoners to stop singing. The guards then took the extreme action of flooding the cells and blowing large fans into the cells creating a draft and freezing temperatures for the Freedom Riders. After they realized these harsh methods were not working they attempted to barter with the Freedom Riders. The warden then apologized to the riders, emotionally wrecked he returned all the belongings that had been taken. The mattresses and screens were returned in an attempt for less singing. This was already a victory for the Freedom Riders.[19]
As the 45 Riders were fighting the battle in the cells many others were coming down to join the men. Winnoh Myers was a woman accompanied by others who took the ride down south and eventually got jailed. She was witness to the treatment first hand. The only main difference was she was a woman being treated just as the men were. She was given bad living quarters and even worse clothing and meals.[21] Most of the Freedom Riders were bailed out after a little over a month. She was the last Freedom Rider left in Parchman Farm. She got visits just due to the fact that she was a Freedom Rider.[22] The Freedom Riders gained credibility in the Civil Rights Movement after undergoing the conditions in Parchman.[23]

 Post Freedom Ride

In 1970 the civil rights lawyer Roy Haber began taking statements from inmates, which eventually ran to fifty pages detailing murders, rapes, beatings and other abuses suffered by the inmates in Parchman from 1969 to 1971. Four Parchman inmates brought a suit against the prison superintendent in federal district court in 1972, alleging their civil rights under the United States Constitution were being violated by the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment.[24] In the case, Gates v. Collier, federal judge William C. Keady found that Parchman Farm violated the Constitution and was an affront to 'modern standards of decency'. Among other reforms, the accommodation was made fit for human habitation and the trusty system (where lifers were armed with rifles and set to guard other inmates) was abolished.[25][26] The state was required to integrate the prison facilities, hire African-American staff members, and construct new prison facilities.[9] In the 1970s Governor of Mississippi William L. Waller organized a blue-ribbon committee to study MSP. The committee decided that the state should abandon MSP's profit farming system and hire a professional penologist to head the prison.[27]
The 1987 BBC Television landmark documentary Fourteen Days in May, which followed the last two weeks of the life of Edward Earl Johnson up until just a few minutes before his execution in the prison's gas chamber, was filmed here.
On July 1, 1984 the Legislature of Mississippi amended §§ 99-19-51 of the Mississippi Code; the new amendment stated that prisoners who committed capital crimes after July 1, 1984 would be executed by lethal injection.[14]
In the mid-1980s several state law enforcement officials and postal inspectors went to Parchman to end a widespread scam involving forged money orders.[28]
In 1985 area farmers referred to the facility as being the "Parchman Penal Farm," even though the facility was officially named the "Mississippi State Penitentiary."[29] During that year MSP had over 4,000 prisoners, including 200 women in a few of the camps.[29] When the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (CMCF) opened in January 1986, all women who were incarcerated at MSP were moved to CMCF.[30]
In 1997 several prison guards were arrested, accused of illegally interfering with prisoner mail.[31] On March 18, 1998 the legislature made another amendment, removing the gas chamber as a method of execution.[14][8] The lethal injection table was first used in 2002.
On Monday November 17, 2003, Larry Hentz escaped from Unit 24B of MSP;[32] he was believed to have been traveling with his wife.[33] The escapee and his wife were captured in San Diego, California on December 11, 2003.[34] Hentz is located in Unit 29;[35] previously he was in Unit 32.[36]
In 2005 Tim Climer, the executive director of the Sunflower County Economic Development District, stated that he wanted to develop MSP into a tourist attraction by establishing an interpretive center.[37]
In 2010, the Mississippi State Penitentiary became the first correctional facility in the United States to install a system to prevent contraband cell phone usage by inmates through the installation of a managed access system to prevent the authentication and operation of contraband wireless devices within the prison grounds. Other prisoners, visitors and guards smuggle telephones as whole units or in pieces for later re-assembly and use. MSP worked with vendors Global Tel*Link Corporation, which already provides permitted inmate landline phone service to the prison, and Tecore Networks, the company which designed and developed the Intelligent Network Access Controller or iNAC managed access technology, to install the system with no incurred cost to the prison or the state of Mississippi. The managed access system renders unauthorized devices useless within the prison, without the need to locate or confiscate the devices, but at the same time permits authorized devices to operate unimpeded. The technology does not encounter the legal impediments facing competing cell detection and cell jamming technologies, and has the added benefit of being able to ensure that all emergency 911 calls are permitted to complete, regardless of source. Christopher Epps, Commissioner of MDOC, publicly unveiled the system on September 8, 2010, and identified managed access as a model for other prisons to follow around the country to address the issue of contraband cell phones.[38][39] Due to the installation of the system, between August 6, 2010 and September 9, 2010, over 216,320 texts and calls were blocked.

 Location and composition

Aerial view of Mississippi State Penitentiary, February 21, 1992 - United States Geological Survey
Mississippi State Penitentiary, which occupies 18,000 acres (7,300 ha) of land, has 53 buildings with a total of 922,966 square feet (85,746.3 m2) of space. As of 2010 the institution can house 4,536 inmates. 1,109 people, as of 2010, work at MSP. Most of MDOC's agricultural enterprise farming activity occurs at MSP. Mississippi Prison Industries has a work program at MSP, with about 190 inmates participating.[40] The road from the front entrance to the back entrance stretches 5.4 miles (8.7 km).[41] Donald Cabana, who served as the superintendent and executioner of MSP, said that "the sheer magnitude of the place was difficult to comprehend on first viewing."[42]
The main gate of MSP is at the intersection of U.S. Route 49W and Mississippi Highway 32, on the west side of 49W
"Parchman" appears as a place on highway maps. The "Parchman" dot represents the MSP main entrance and several MSP buildings, with the prison territory located to the west of the main entrance.[43] The main entrance, a metal gate with "Mississippi State Penitentiary" in large letters,[43] is located at the intersection of U.S. Route 49W and Mississippi Highway 32,[44] on the west side of 49W.[43] The Mississippi Blues Trail[45] Passersby are not permitted to stop to photograph buildings at the Parchman main entrance.[46] The rear entrance is about 10 miles (16 km) east of Shelby, at MS 32.[29] A private portion of Highway 32 extends from the main entrance of MSP to the rear entrance of MSP.[47] U.S. 49W is a major highway used to travel to MSP.[15] The City of Drew is 8 miles (13 km) south of MSP,[41] and Ruleville is about 15 miles (24 km) from MSP.[48] Parchman is south of Tutwiler,[49] about 90 miles (140 km) south of Memphis, Tennessee,[6] and about 120 miles (190 km) north of Jackson.[50] marker is located at the Parchman main entrance.
Throughout MSP's history, it was referred to as "the prison without walls" due to the dispersed camps within its property.[5] Hugh Ferguson, the director of public affairs of MSP, said that the prison is not like Alcatraz, because it is not centralized in one or several main buildings. Instead MSP consists of several prison camps spread out over a large area, called "units." Each unit serves a specific segment of the prison population, and each unit is surrounded by walls with barbed tape.[51] The perimeter of the overall Parchman property has no fencing. The prison property, located on flat farmland of the Mississippi Delta, has almost no trees. Ferguson said that a potential escapee would have no place to hide. Richard Rubin, author of Confederacy of Silence: A True Tale of the New Old South, said that MSP's environment is so inhospitable for escape that prisoners working in the fields are not chained to one another, and one overseer supervises each gang.[52] A potential escapee could wander for days without leaving the MSP property.[53] As of 1971 guards patrol MSP on horseback instead of on foot.[42] The rear entrance is protected by a steel barricade and a guard tower.[29] In 1985 Robert Cross of the Chicago Tribune said "The physical surroundings--cotton and bean fields, the 21 scattered camps, the barbed wire enclosures--suggest that nothing much has changed since the days, early in this century, when outsiders could visit Parchman State Penal Farm only on the fifth Sunday of those rare months containing more than four."[29]
MSP has two main areas, Area I and Area II. Area I includes Unit 29 and the Front Vocational School. Area II includes Units 25-26, Units 30-32, and Unit 42. Seven units house prisoners.[2] As of the 1970s and 1980s the prison grounds had small red houses that were used for conjugal visits.[29][54] As of 2010 the prison still offers conjugal visits.[55]

 Inmate housing units

Six units currently house prisoners.[56] Units which currently function as inmate housing include:[2][57]
  • Unit 25
    • In the mid-2000s Unit 25 had the Pre-Release/Job Assistance Alcohol and Drug Therapeutic Community After Care Program, which had 48 beds. The program was for offenders who are about to be released from prison.[58]
  • Unit 26
    • Units 26, 27, and 28, which in total have a capacity of 388 people, together had a price tag of $3,450,000.[30]
  • Unit 29
    Unit 29 (1992)
    • Unit 29, a 16-building medium security complex, opened in 1980 and designed by Dale and Associates.[59] Unit 29 houses all male death row inmates in MDOC.[2]
    • The building, which was under construction in the 1970s and originally had a capacity of 1,456, had a construction cost of $22,045,000.[30] In 2000 a prisoner riot occurred at Unit 29, leading to some injuries.[60] Renovations occurred in 1998, including the conversion of dormitory units into cell units.[59] Unit 29 is the primary farming support unit of MSP. It has 1,561 beds,[2][40] In the mid-1990s Unit 29 was the main maximum security camp for the population. Most inmates started their stays in Unit 29, and almost every prisoner went through the unit.[51] Renovations of Unit 29 in the financial year of 2000 added about 240 beds.[61] By 2001 MDOC built a kitchen and had converted half of Unit 29's open bay dormitories to individual cells; together the changed had a price tag of $21,760,284 of U.S. Department of Justice grant money.[62] Unit 29-A houses the A&D Treatment Program for Special Needs program, which is for prisoners with HIV/AIDS who are more than 6 months and within 30 months of their release dates.[63] which house minimum, medium, and close custody inmates. The unit is the prison's largest in terms of prisoner capacity.
  • Unit 30
    • Unit 30 is the education and drug treatment facility.[64] It was designed by Dale and Associates.[65] Unit 30, a part of the Alcohol and Drug Therapeutic Community Treatment Centers (ADTC-TC), has 480 beds. Unit 30 has two housing buildings, A and B, and each building has two housing zones, A and B. Each zone houses 108 prisoners.[63] Previously each zone housed 120 prisoners.[58]
  • Unit 31
    • Unit 31 serves as the unit for inmates with severe disabilities.[66] The unit includes a 12 week alcohol and drug program based on principles of Alcoholics Anonymous.[63]
  • Unit 42
    • Unit 42, the prison hospital, has 54 beds.[2] In terms of capacity it is the smallest residential unit.[40] The prison hospital serves female inmates throughout the MDOC system.[67] In December 2009 MDOC opened the Compassionate and Palliative Care Unit, a hospice for dying prisoners, in the hospital.[68]
MDOC classifies 13 units as "closed housing units."[56] All of the units in the prison which formerly housed prisoners and no longer function as inmate housing include:[57]
  • Unit 4
  • Unit 10
    • Units 10, 12, and 20, which together housed 300 people, together had a total cost of $1,000,000.[30]
  • Unit 12
    • Unit 12 had the pre-release operations.[69]
  • Unit 15, Building B
  • Unit 16
    • The unit, with a capacity of 68 people, was built in the 1970s for $3,000,000.[30]
  • Unit 17
    • Unit 17 houses the execution chamber for condemned inmates.[70] A condemned prisoner is transferred to a holding cell next to the death chamber 48 hours before the scheduled time of his or her execution.[40] Cell NO. 14 is used to house inmates prior to execution. The execution chamber is a 10-foot (3.0 m) by 15-foot (4.6 m) room.[71]
    • Unit 17's prisoner housing was closed on October 25, 2004.[72] At one time the 56-bed Unit 17 housed the prison's death row.[73]
  • K-9
  • Unit 20
  • Fire House
  • Unit 22
    • Units 22 and 23 and the prison hospital, which in total have a capacity of 324 people, together had a price tag of $1,850,000.[30]
  • Unit 23
  • Unit 24
    • The unit, with a capacity of 192 people, was built in the 1970s for $2,250,000.[30] Unit 24E and Unit 25 in total had a capacity of 352 people, and they had a total cost of $1,750,000.[30] The total construction cost of all of Unit 24, constructed in 1975, is $3.6 million. The unit had 192 single cell medium security beds. The facility has two stories and three housing zones, each having 64 beds. Zones A and B housed special needs prisoners who were receiving mental health care. Zone C had general population A and B security level prisoners.[32]
  • Unit 27
    • In the 1990s Unit 27 was the protective custody facility. Richard Rubin, author of Confederacy of Silence: A True Tale of the New Old South, noticed that most of the prisoners in Unit 27 were White, while overall in MSP most prisoners were Black.[51]
  • Unit 28
    • In the mid-2000s Unit 28 was the facility for the A&D Treatment Program for Special Needs program, which is for prisoners with HIV/AIDS who are more than 7 months and within 30 months of their release dates. The program began as a therapeutic community in April 2002; previously the program was a 12 week program.[58] Historically Unit 28 was the housing where HIV positive offenders were segregated into.[74] In 2010 the MDOC Commissioner, Christopher B. "Chris" Epps, said that MDOC, beginning in May, would no longer segregate HIV offenders.[75] By August 2010 Unit 28, which had 192 beds, closed.[76]
  • Unit 32
    • Unit 32, a 34.8-acre (14.1 ha) prison unit,[77] was the designated unit of housing for maximum security and death row convicts.,[78] and Unit 32 served as MSP's lockdown unit.[51] Unit 32, designed by Dale and Associates,[65] has "Supermax" cells.[79]
    • The U32 housing facility has five two story housing facilities, a recreation building, and external structures such as gun towers. Each housing building has 200 cells and 82 square feet (7.6 m2) of living space. Each housing building was made of precast concrete, and 6,700 cubic yards of concrete and 500,000 pounds (230,000 kg) of reinforcing steel were used to build each housing building.[77] Building A (Alpha Building) served as the maximum security area.[80][81] Building B (Bravo Building) also housed closed custody prisoners.[81] Building C (Charlie Building) served as death row.[82][83] Unit 32 was intended to reduce maintenance necessities by using durable structure and equipment and to allow prison administrators to establish a high level of control over U32's residents. The 18.8-acre (7.6 ha) Unit 32 Support Facility houses administrative offices, a canteen, medical services, a library, and a visitation area.[77]
    • The $41 million unit opened in August 1990, increasing MSP's maximum security bed space by over 15 percent; during that year Mississippi officials said that the prison needed more maximum security space after Unit 32's opening.[78] Prior to Unit 32's opening, MSP had 56 "lockdown" cells for difficult prisoners.[9] By 2003 the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of six inmates, alleging poor conditions in Unit 32's death row.[84] In 2007 three inmates in Unit 32 were murdered by other inmates in a several month span.[85] During that year a guard at Unit 32 said that under-staffing contributed to the security lapses.[86] In 2010 MDOC and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reached an agreement to close Unit 32 and transfer prisoners to other areas. Mentally ill prisoners in the unit will be transferred to the East Mississippi Correctional Facility near Meridian, Mississippi.[87]


  1. It's absolutely insane to have a Pallative Care center for dying inmates. RELEASE THEM, SEND THEM HOME TO DIE WITH THERE FAMILIES. Christopher Epps is responsible for these men and women, he has the power to release them on their death bed but he would rather WATCH THEM DIE. Your day is coming Epps, we all have our Day. The good Lord will take care of you.

  2. While I understand that you might feel this way if you have a family member who is in the system, there are those of us who are victims who do not. My dad was murdered in cold blood when I was a kid by a man who is serving life in this prison. I am now an adult, with 2 children and a husband. My daddy didn't get to die at an old age or from an illness with the comfort and love of his family. I am sorry, but the animal who did that to him shouldn't get the privilege to do so either.