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Mississippi governor calls for Parchman Unit 29 cell block to close: "I've seen enough"

Calls for prison reform in Mississippi

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves on Monday called for the closure of Unit 29 of the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, a cell block officials have deemed "unsafe" due to failing infrastructure. The announcement comes amid a spate of deaths in the state prison system in recent months.

"I have instructed the Mississippi Department of Corrections to begin the necessary work to start closing Parchman's most notorious unit, Unit 29," Reeves said at his 2020 State of the State address. "I've seen enough. We have to turn the page. This is the first step, and I have asked the department to begin the preparations to make it happen safely, justly and quickly."

The announcement comes one day after 26-year-old inmate Joshua Norman was found dead in his cell in Unit 29. No foul play was suspected, according to the Mississippi Department of Corrections. More than 10 inmates have died in the state's prison system since December. Most of the deaths occurred at Parchman.

Two weeks ago, 29 inmates filed a federal lawsuit alleging the conditions at Parchman are unconstitutional. Rappers Jay-Z and Yo Gotti are paying for the lawyers in the case.

Yo Gotti, in an exclusive statement to CBS News, said the governor's announcement doesn't go far enough and called for the Department of Justice to intervene. "Governor Reeves' plan to close down a Parchman prison unit that has caused devastating deaths is a necessary first step," he said. 

He added: "Beyond that, he must implement broader safety measures to address similar issues in other units and urgently provide inmates with medical attention. In the interim, we're calling for the Department of Justice to step in, move the Parchman inmates to federal prisons and ensure their immediate well-being."

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Jordan Siev, an outside lawyer representing the inmates, said the conditions in Mississippi's prisons are "inhumane."

"What's happening runs counter to every integral value we as Americans hold as rights guaranteed to people here," Siev told CBS News last week. "The system is not running properly."

After Unit 29 was deemed "unsafe," 375 inmates were moved to the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility, the Department of Corrections said earlier this month. But 625 inmates remain in the unit, the department said, because "the department lacks the staff and resources" to move them to another facility.

Almost half of the approximately 1,300 corrections roles at three major facilities in Mississippi are unfilled. According to the lawsuit, the recent violence is the result of "years of severe understaffing and neglect at Mississippi's prisons."

Justin Carissimo contributed to this report.

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