Statement from Mississippi State Rep. Robert Johnson (D-94), on behalf of the House Democratic Caucus, as well as Reps. Jarvis Dortch (D-66), Otis Anthony (D-31 ), Orlando Paden (D-26), Tracey Rosebud (D-30), Abe Hudson (D-29), John Hines (D-50,) and Sonya Williams- Barnes (D-119), after a visit today to Parchman State Penitentiary:
"First, we are deeply sorry for the loss of anyone under our state's care. Our prayers go out to the families and the loved ones of the men we lost over the past days.
"What we saw today at Parchman was a breeding ground for a bad situation. Corrections officers we spoke to said each unit should have four officers for every 64 incarcerated people. What we had this past weekend was two people for 128 people in prison.
"People blame the gangs, but we must have the staff to manage the situation. We as legislators have not lived up to our responsibility. And we had fewer than four staffers for 128 incarcerated people, and likely, the staff managing were women because 75% of correctional officers are women at Parchman.
"I don't think anyone can appreciate how bad the situation is. We have a 17,000-acre facility at Parchman for 3,400 people. We have people with low-level drug crimes who should be released and getting their lives back together, but instead are locked up.
"Last year, we underfunded the Department of Corrections by $980,000. Next week, we will have to pay $2.5 million to house about 300 people for 90 days. This is not a smart answer to this problem.
"First, we need the parole board to have discretion to release parole-eligible people. We have over 6,000 of 19,000 people incarcerated who are eligible for parole, but because of unnecessary sentencing, mandatory minimums, they are not being released.
"Finally, we would suggest that the governor use his executive power to commute the sentences of people who are eligible for parole so we can reduce the overcrowding in our prisons. These are nonviolent offenders and people who are not a threat to the public.
"The Legislature, the governor and our respective agencies have a lot of work to do."