Thursday, December 5, 2013

ACLU court case brings prison reform to Mississippi

[this case is discussed in greater detail here]
In 1989, two HIV-positive prisoners brought a pro se law suit against the Mississippi Department of Corrections ("MDOC") for failing to provide them with adequate medical care at Parchman Farm. After losing their case, they won on appeal (Moore v. Mabus, 976 F.2d 268 (1992)) the right to receive prescribed medical care and be represented by an attorney. This was only the beginning of their troubles, however. MDOC continued to provide inadequate treatment and their court-appointed attorney refused to provide adequate representation.

In 1999, the ACLU filed a motion to substitute counsel on behalf of 110 HIV-positive prisoners at Parchman. Once again, the courts were reluctant to assist the prisoners. The ACLU enlisted the aid of Holland & Knight pro bono  attorneys. They also began negotiations with Robert Johnson, the newly appointed commissioner of MDOC, to remove their clients from segregation. Johnson assembled a task force of local groups and prisoner family members to discuss the issues and ended up agreeing with the prisoners' representatives Johnson then instituted regulations that integrated the HIV-positive prisoners with the general prison population.

It wasn't until 2007--after numerous trials and more discussions--that MDOC began instituting reforms for the entire prison. These reforms included a clearly defined incentive program that permitted prisoners to earn their way out of segregation--solitary confinement--and into the general population. Prisoners were permitted to take classes and play sports. General mental health services were greatly expanded.

Conditions at Parchman Farm in 1992 were similar to conditions at Red Onion Prison in 2013. Neither prisoners nor lawyers gave up trying to better their conditions over 15 years of litigation, negotiation, and retrenchment. We do not know the extent of prisoners' rights violations at Red Onion. The first step, however, should be a law suit on behalf of prisoners undertaken by the NLG and whatever other agencies or pro bono  attorneys are willing to join.


1 comment:

Bruce Hammerson said...

This is very innovative way for the prisoners. Through this we can get changer in their nature.

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