In 1843 a penitentiary in four city squares in central Jackson became Mississippi's first state prison. The complex was replaced by construction of the Capitol of Mississippi.
The Jackson prison was destroyed during the Civil War, and the state had no prison. For decades, the state conducted convict leasing, leasing prisoners to third parties for their work, which held custody of the inmates and arranged their board. The state made substantial amounts of money from these arrangements, which created an incentive to have more people arrested and sentenced for minor crimes. Increasing the number of crimes for which persons could be arrested, such as vagrancy, resulted in an increased pool of prisoners to lease out. Most prisoners were freedmen; the state used this system to extract labor from former slaves and keep them suppressed socially. After December 31, 1894, prisoners sentenced by the State of Mississippi could no longer be hired or leased by third parties.
After ending the convict leasing system, the State of Mississippi began to acquire property to build its own correctional facilities. The state bought the Rankin Farm in Rankin County, 12 miles (19 km) away from Jackson, in 1895; it is now the location of Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. Afterward the state purchased the Oakley Farm, located in Hinds County, 25 miles (40 km) from Jackson. The state government purchased land in Sunflower County in January 1901, where it developed the Parchman Farm (now Mississippi State Penitentiary).
The Department of Corrections was established in 1976 to oversee the existing Mississippi state prisons. By the end of the 20th century, the state had one of the largest prison systems in the country. A disproportionate number and percentage of African Americans and other people of color have been incarcerated as sentencing guidelines were made more strict.
Since the late 20th century, civil rights groups and prisoner advocates have filed class-action suits in efforts to improve prison conditions and protect prisoner rights. As a result of such a suit against Unit 32 (Death Row lockdown unit) at Mississippi State Penitentiary, the state and the ACLU worked out a settlement that changed processes and dramatically reduced the use of punitive solitary confinement in the state.
In 2009 and 2014, the state passed legislation to provide more flexibility in sentencing and parole of certain classes of prisoners, reducing the prison population and returning non-violent offenders to their communities.
Beginning in the late 20th century, the state dealt with the rising need to incarcerate individuals by contracting with private prison management companies, who built and operated a total of six prisons for state prisoners in Mississippi. Corrections Corporation of America and Cornell Companies were two early contractors; the latter was acquired by GEO Group in 2010, which took over its contracts in Mississippi and elsewhere. Prisoners and their families made numerous complaints about conditions in these facilities, citing high rates of violence and abuse, rampant drugs, lack of medical care and other problems.
Class action suits were filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU National Prison Project against two private facilities with the most egregious conditions: Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in 2010 and the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, established for prisoners with serious mental illness, in 2013. The first case was settled in 2012, requiring the state to quickly transfer youth offenders to a state-run facility to be operated according to juvenile justice standards; they were transferred to Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. In addition, the state was prohibited from using solitary confinement for any youthful offender. WGCF was converted to be used for adults only. MDOC ended its contract with GEO Group, awarding a 10-year contract to Management and Training Corporation for Walnut Grove and two other private facilities, effective July 1, 2012. The court supervision of WGCF continued because of two prison riots in 2014. The state closed the prison in September 2016.
The class-action suit at East Mississippi Correctional Facility is proceeding; the court affirmed the status of the plaintiffs in 2015.
The state and private prison operators have had difficulty maintaining staffing in prisons because of low wages and high turnover. Many prisons were plagued by violence. By 2011 MDOC operated below capacity due to its efforts to reduce the prison population, such as increased use of house arrest and conditional medical release. As of 2011 the state prisons were below capacity by more than 2,000 spaces. With private prisons included, that was about 4,000 beds below capacity. Delta Correctional Facility was closed in January 2012. MDOC closed Walnut Grove Correctional Facility in September 2016. By early 2017 no Mississippi prisoners were held at the privately run Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility. CCA had contracts with California and other states to house their prisoners at this site.
In March 2017, MDOC held its inmates at only three private prisons. In early 2017, Interim Commissioner Pelicia Hall conducted raids for contraband at these private prisons, collecting much material. She is determined to reduce the traffic in contraband, which contributes to corruption in the prisons.
As a result of an investigation known as Operation Mississippi Hustle, in November 2014 the federal Department of Justice announced indictments of former Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps (who resigned the day before) and Cecil B. McCrory, a businessman and former Republican state legislator, on 49 counts. Newspaper reports have indicated widespread corruption in the department. This includes contraband being smuggled into facilities by the guards, sex between staff and inmates, and millions paid in bribes for awarding department contracts. Epps was charged with receiving $1.47 million in bribes and kickbacks, related to $800 million worth of contracts made over about a decade. Both Epps and McCrory pleaded guilty in 2015 and cooperated with investigators on identifying others responsible. Eight other indictments followed, with one waived and more expected. Defendants include consultant and businessman Robert Simmons, who was sentenced to 87 months; former mayor of Walnut Grove, Mayor William Grady Sims, who was prosecuted earlier and sentenced to 7 months; former legislator and Republican businessman Sam Waggoner, former Harrison County Supervisor William Martin, who committed suicide before arraignment; former Alcorn County warden and Democratic state Senator Irb Benjamin, Dr. Carl Reddix, Terese Malone, Mark Longoria, and Guy "Butch" Evans.
On February 8, 2017, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood announced he had filed civil cases against 15 corporations and numerous individuals who had engaged in contracts with the MDOC and Epps, seeking damages and punitive damages. Hood said,
“These individuals and corporations that benefited by stealing from taxpayers must not only pay the state's losses, but state law requires that they must also forfeit and return the entire amount of the contracts paid by the state. We are also seeking punitive damages to punish these conspirators and to deter those who might consider giving or receiving kickbacks in the future." Besides Teresa Malone and Carl Reddix, the defendants included Michael Reddix; Andrew Jenkins; Management & Training Corporation; The GEO Group, Inc.; Cornell Companies, Inc.; Wexford Health Sources, Inc.; The Bantry Group Corporation; AdminPros, L.L.C.; CGL Facility Management, LLC; Mississippi Correctional Management, Inc.; Branan Medical Corporation; Drug Testing Corporation; Global Tel*Link Corporation; Health Assurance, LLC; Keefe Commissary Network, LLC of St. Louis; Sentinel Offender Services, L.L.C. and AJA Management & Technical Services, Inc.Division of Institutions: Operates prisonsAgricultural Enterprises: Oversees agricultural operations at the Mississippi State Penitentiary (MSP) and South Mississippi Correctional Institution (SMCI). The majority of MDOC's farming occurs at MSP.
Division of Classification & Offender Services: Assigns prisoners to security classifications
Community Corrections Division: Supervises parole and probation
Before going to their assigned facilities and after their transfer from county jails, most prison inmates are sent to the Reception & Classification Center (R&C) in the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (CMCF) in Rankin County to be classified according to behavior level and assessed for treatment. The classification process takes around 30 days.
Most male inmates who are sentenced to MDOC by the courts or who are returned to MDOC as parole violators, probation violators, intensive supervision program (ISP) (house arrest) violators, earned release supervision (ERS) violators, and suspension violators are placed at R&C. All women inmates who are sentenced to MDOC by the courts or who are returned to MDOC as parole violators, probation violators, ISP violators, ERS violators, and suspension violators are placed in 1A or 2B at CMCF. Male death row inmates transferred from county jails immediately are sent to the Mississippi State Penitentiary, the location of the male death row.
Each prisoner receives a security classification. The classifications are:Minimum (Community)
In November 2014, media reports indicated the department housed each prisoner at a cost of about $42.12 per day, one of the lowest costs in the nation.
MDOC contracts with Wexford Health Sources, Inc., headquartered in Green Tree, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. Wexford provides medical services to inmates at state-operated facilities. Each privately operated facility has its own contracted medical services provider.
Wexford was awarded the $95 million MDOC contract in 2006. Previously MDOC contracted with Correctional Medical Services (CMS), headquartered in Creve Coeur, Missouri, near St. Louis. CMS's contract began on July 1, 2003.
MDOC's Intensive Supervision Program (ISP) is the authority's house arrest program.
MDOC performs executions at the Mississippi State Penitentiary. Male death row offenders are housed in the Mississippi State Penitentiary, while female death row offenders are housed in the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility.
The Mississippi state prison system ended conjugal visits in February 2014. The commissioner at the time, Chris Epps, argued that the possibility of creating single parents and the expenses were the reasons why conjugal visits ended.
Previously MDOC contracted prisoners to local and county governments, in essence paying a subsidy to the jurisdictions to manage the prisoners. The prisoners, often classified as trusties, would get reductions in their sentences in exchange for doing work. On April 30, 2015 MDOC stated that it would end this program and save $3.2 million per year. Many jurisdictions have complained they will be unable to replace the labor of the prisoners.
In 2014, media reports indicated the department housed each prisoner at a cost of about $42.12 per day, one of the lowest costs in the nation. The state spends about three times for each prisoner as it does for each school student. In 2013, the agency budget was about $389 million.
About three-quarters of those released by the department are arrested again in the next five years. About a third are returned to prison within three years.
As of September 1, 2008, the Mississippi Department of Corrections has 26,274 inmates in its custody. 17,677 (67.28%) are Black, 8,269 (31.47%) are White, 236 (.09%) are Hispanic, 43 (.16%) are Asian, 27 (.01%) are Native American, and 22 (.06%) have that data unavailable. Of the 23,692 male inmates, 16,366 (69.08%) are Black, 7,030 (29.67%) are White, 222 (.94%) are Hispanic, 35 (.15%) are Asian, 23 (.1%) are Native American, and 16 (.07%) have that data unavailable. Of the 2,582 female inmates, 1,311 (50.77%) are Black, 1,239 (47.99%) are White, 14 (.54%) are Hispanic, 8 (.31%) are Asian, 4 (.15%) are Native American, and 6 (.23%) have that data unavailable.
These were constructed in unincorporated areas:Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (Rankin County)
Mississippi State Penitentiary (Sunflower County, formerly known as Parchman Farm)
South Mississippi Correctional Institution (Greene County)
Bolivar County Correctional Facility
Carroll-Montgomery County/Regional Correctional Facility
George-Greene County/Regional Correctional Facility
Holmes-Humphreys County/Regional Correctional Facility
Issaquena County Correctional Facility
Jefferson-Franklin County/Regional Correctional Facility
Kemper-Neshoba County/Regional Correctional Facility
Leake County Correctional Facility
Marion-Walthall County/Regional Correctional Facility
Stone County Correctional Facility
Winston-Choctaw County/Regional Correctional Facility
Since 2012, MDOC has reduced the number of prisoners it has in private prisons due to an overall reduction of prisoners in the state, aided by changes to sentencing and parole laws in 2008 and 2014. As of March 2017, three private prisons hold Mississippi prisoners:East Mississippi Correctional Facility (EMCF) -(unincorporated Lauderdale County) - Operated since July 2012 on a 10-year contract by Management and Training Corporation (MTC), which replaced GEO Group. East Mississippi is the state's main "special needs" facility (for inmates with disabilities and/or severe mental illness).
Marshall County Correctional Facility (MCCF)- Operated by GEO Group until June 2012; now under 10-yr contract to MTC.
Wilkinson County Correctional Center (WCCC) - Operated by CCA through early 2013; since 2013 by MTC.
The remaining three are closed for MDOC operations.Delta Correctional Facility (Greenwood) - Opened , formerly operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) - Facility suspended January 2012
Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility (in unincorporated Tallahatchie County) - Opened , operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA); as of January 2017 holding no Mississippi inmates, but prisoners from California.
Walnut Grove Correctional Facility Walnut Grove, (formerly the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility) - Opened 2001 and operated by Cornell Corrections 2003-2010, then GEO Group until June 2012. Operated as an adult facility under 10-yr contract by MTC July 2012-16 September 2016, when it was closed.
Men may have hair that is not more than 3 inches (76 mm) in length. Men may have beards and goatees up to .5 inches (13 mm) in length.
Most prisoner outfits are striped. As of 1997, green stripes indicate lower security prisoners, black stripes indicate prisoners with a level higher than the ones with green stripes, and red stripes indicate high security prisoners.
Reception and Classification Center inmates wear yellow jumpsuits. Condemned prisoners are required to wear red jumpsuits.
Since the establishment of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, six officers have died in the line of duty.
The New Jersey Department of Corrections, the state prison system of New Jersey, established the "Be Smart Choose Freedom" television advertisement campaign in 2005. The State of New Jersey produced 30–60 second public service announcements to warn state residents against going to prison. MDOC decided to start its own "Be Smart Choose Freedom" campaign and use the commercials that aired in New Jersey.