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Mississippi inmate found dead in his cell after spike in violence in state's prisons

Calls for prison reform in Mississippi
Calls for prison reform in Mississippi 03:34

An inmate at a Mississippi prison was found hanging in his cell by two corrections officers over the weekend and pronounced dead, a coroner said Sunday. Coroner Heather Burton said she was called Sunday to the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman where inmate Gabriel Carmen was found hanging in his cell Saturday evening.

Carmen's death comes after a recent spike in violence in the state's correctional facilities. In the days around New Year's, five inmates were killed in different state prisons.

Burton said corrections officials reported Carmen had been irate and throwing feces before his death. The statement by the Sunflower County coroner said the inmate was last seen by corrections officers during a security check at 6:20 p.m. Saturday.

It said officers noted Carmen was throwing feces against a cellblock hallway wall. According to the statement, a person cleaning the hall then alerted two corrections officers at 6:40 p.m. Saturday that the inmate was hanging and the officials immediately ran to check on Carmen.

"They attempted to enter the cell, but the cell lock was jammed from the inside with a pipe the offender had removed from the toilet," the statement said. "Maintenance had to respond to assist in opening the cell door" to let medical staff in.

Gabriel Carmen is seen in an undated booking photo.
Gabriel Carmen is seen in an undated booking photo. Mississippi Department of Corrections

Carmen was pronounced dead at 7:21 p.m. Saturday by a doctor and his body was removed from the cellblock by medical staff before the remains were taken to the state medical examiner's office for a planned autopsy. The coroner said the cause and manner of death are pending autopsy results.

Burton's statement noted complaints from relatives of inmates that the state hasn't done enough to explain why and how their loved ones died in recent disturbances. The coroner said she spoke to the inmate's parents, offering condolences and seeking to answer their questions.

Between December 29 and January 3, five inmates were killed and an undisclosed number of others were injured in violence inside the prisons. More than two dozen inmates sued the state recently, saying understaffed state prisons are "plagued by violence" and inmates are forced to live in decrepit and dangerous conditions.

All of the 29 plaintiffs have been inmates at Parchman. Recording artist Yo Gotti and Team Roc, the philanthropy group under rap mogul Jay-Z's company Roc Nation, have provided lawyers for the plaintiffs.

"Everybody's still human; they can't live in inhumane situations," Yo Gotti said on CBSN. "… We just can't have people sleeping on the floors, not getting food, not getting water. You know, it's supposed to be a rehabilitation program, you know, not where people lose their lives."

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State prison officials for several years have been asking lawmakers for tens of millions of dollars to renovate the cellblock where Carmen died, Parchman's Unit 29, citing decrepit conditions. After the unrest, Mississippi signed an emergency contract to move 375 of those inmates to a private prison nearby.

Prison Unrest Mississippi
This undated photo taken by an inmate at Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman and provided to The Associated Press shows inmates seen lying on the floor next to a full toilet. Anonymous / AP
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