Federal Court Holds Mississippi Responsible for Protecting Prisoners from Gang Violence Abetted by Guards

Judge finds state Department of Corrections violates prisoners’ Eighth Amendment rights by putting them at risk for injury and death.

June 11, 2015 12:00 pm

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JACKSON, Miss. – U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ruled that the Mississippi Department of Corrections is violating the Eighth Amendment rights of the prisoners at Walnut Grove Correctional Facility by failing to protect them from violence by “gangs run amok.”

In his decision, Reeves noted that gangs control Walnut Grove and that prison guards often collude with them, leaving prisoners vulnerable to attack and fostering conditions for two riots in the past year—violations of the Eighth Amendment right to reasonable protection.

The judge ordered the department and MTC—the for-profit prison corporation the state pays to operate Walnut Grove—to implement basic safety measures to end gang control as well as violence by guards against prisoners at Walnut Grove. The ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and McDuff & Byrd represented the prisoners in the class action suit over the violence.

“With this federal court ruling, the Mississippi Department of Corrections must step up to its responsibility under the Constitution and protect the prisoners of Walnut Grove from violence,” said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “The department can no longer sit back and let a for-profit prison company neglect the prisoners’ safety on the state’s dime. We will make sure that this historic judgment is enforced, and we hope its impact will be felt not only at Walnut Grove but at prisons throughout the state.”

“We are very pleased with the court’s decision today,” said Jody Owens, managing attorney for the SPLC’s Mississippi office. “This is an important ruling for all current and future prisoners held inside the privately operated facility. We look forward to the continued role the court will play to ensure that prison officials uphold their constitutional obligations to provide a safe and humane environment for inmates at Walnut Grove Correctional Facility.”

For the decision and more information about the case, please visit:

Southern Poverty Law Center: C.B. et al. v. Walnut Grove Correctional Authority, et. al.: http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/case-docket/cb-et-al-v-walnut-grove-correctional-authority

ACLU: C.B. et al. v. Walnut Grove Correctional Authority, et. al.: https://www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights/cb-et-al-v-walnut-grove-correctional-authority-et-al

The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Alabama with offices in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society. For more information, see www.splcenter.org.

The ACLU’s National Prison Project is dedicated to ensuring that our nation’s prisons, jails, and other places of detention comply with the Constitution, domestic law, and international human rights principles, and to ending the policies that have given the United States the highest incarceration rate in the world. For more information, see https://www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights.

McDuff & Byrd is a law firm in Jackson, Mississippi, focusing on civil rights and criminal defense cases.

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