The Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into the Mississippi prison system after a string of inmate deaths in the past few months, officials said Wednesday. Federal prosecutors are looking into conditions at four state prisons after the deaths of at least 15 inmates since late December. The investigation is examining whether state corrections officials are adequately protecting prisoners from physical harm and will look into whether there are adequate health care and suicide prevention services, the AP reports. The investigation by the Justice Department's civil rights division will specifically focus on conditions at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, the South Mississippi Correctional Institution, the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, and the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility, the department said.
Some of the inmate deaths in recent weeks happened during confrontations between inmates. Some were suicides. Violence is a recurring problem in Mississippi prisons, where many jobs for guards are unfilled. Officials with the state Department of Corrections have said for years that it's difficult to find people to work as guards because of low pay, long hours, and dangerous conditions. The deputy legal director for Southern Poverty Law Center, Lisa Graybill, said in a statement Wednesday that Mississippi prisons "have a brutal history rooted in slavery and convict leasing." "It is time for the federal government to step in and do what the Mississippi Department of Corrections has failed to: end the violence and ensure humane living conditions," Graybill said.
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