JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Two inmates were killed Monday night at an understaffed Mississippi prison that has been shaken by other deadly violence in recent weeks.
The state Department of Corrections confirmed the deaths Tuesday but did not immediately release the names of the latest inmates killed at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. A chaplain was trying to reach the inmates' families to notify them of the deaths, and the department said it is investigating the deaths.
"At this moment, it appears to be an isolated incident - not a continuation of the recent retaliatory killings," the department said Tuesday on Twitter.
Department spokeswoman Grace Simmons Fisher verified to The Associated Press that the information is accurate.
Five inmates were killed and an undisclosed number of others inmates were injured during an outbreak of violence in Mississippi's prison system between Dec. 29 and Jan. 3. Three of those five deaths were at Parchman.
In addition to those deaths and the two on Monday, another inmate was found hanging in his cell Saturday night at Parchman. Sunflower County Coroner Heather Burton said she was called Sunday to the prison, where Gabriel Carmen was found hanging the night before. She said corrections officials reported he had been irate and throwing feces before his death. An autopsy was being done. Prison officials said Carmen's cell lock had been jammed from inside the cell.
More than two dozen inmates sued the state Jan. 14, saying understaffed prisons are "plagued by violence" and inmates are forced to live in decrepit and dangerous conditions. Jay-Z and Yo Gotti are paying for the attorneys in the case, a spokesperson for the entertainers confirmed. All of the plaintiffs have been inmates at Parchman.
Because of damage caused during the unrest, hundreds of prisoners were moved from one unit at the Parchman to another unit there that closed years ago because of decrepit conditions. The state then entered an emergency contract to move 375 of those inmates to a private prison nearby.
Pelicia Hall, who had been commissioner of the Department of Corrections since 2017, stepped down last week when Mississippi's new governor, Tate Reeves, was inaugurated to succeed fellow Republican Phil Bryant.
Hall said in a news release Jan. 13 that even after moving the 375 inmates, the state would have to find different housing for 625 other maximum-security inmates who had been housed at Parchman's Unit 29, which was damaged in the violence.
Hall and her predecessors repeatedly told Mississippi legislators that prisons have too few guards because the pay is low and working conditions can be dangerous.
Reeves on Thursday said the recent violence in the prisons is a "castastrophe." He appointed a former state lawmaker to temporarily lead the Department of Corrections, and he appointed a group to do a nationwide search for a new commissioner.
Reeves also said the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation will assign an officer to the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman to uncover any criminal activity connected to the violence.
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