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USA: 152 Parchman inmates sue Mississippi officials over "barbaric" prison conditions and "deprivation" of health care

A total of 19 people have died in state facilities since December 29.

Lawyers representing inmates inside the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman filed a second lawsuit in federal court early Wednesday on behalf of 152 inmates who they say have been denied adequate medical and mental health care, fed contaminated food and retaliated against for speaking with their attorneys.

“The conditions of confinement at Parchman are so barbaric, the deprivation of health and mental health care so extreme, and the defects in security so severe, that the people confined at Parchman live a miserable and hopeless existence confronted daily by imminent risk of substantial harm in violation of their rights afforded by the U.S. Constitution,” the complaint said.

The proposed class-action lawsuit, funded by rapper Yo Gotti and Jay-Z’s Team Roc, was filed in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Mississippi. Eight defendants are named in the suit, including the interim director of state’s Department of Corrections, the department’s top medical official and several officials at the prison, including the superintendent and certain wardens.

The lawyers are requesting the court to order the defendants to implement a plan to “eliminate the substantial risk of harm” to inmates caused by the prison’s deteriorating conditions and alleged retaliation by officials.

The complaint said many inmates are in “dire need of medical care” for conditions like cancer, lupus and serious heart defects, as well as deteriorating joints and muscles and “open, festering wounds.” The lawyers previously filed a suit representing 29 different inmates in January.

“Broken bones, abscesses, diabetes and a host of other injuries and maladies routinely go without examination, much less medically effective treatment, at Parchman,” the new complaint said, claiming that inmates are forced to self-treat their own ailments.

A total of 19 people have died in state facilities since December 29, a figure that includes suicides, homicides and cases that were classified as “natural deaths.”

The lawyers claim the prison suffers chronic staffing shortages that leave inmates in “constant peril” and there is often only one guard for every 160 inmates, according to the complaint. There are 800 job vacancies in the three state facilities that remain unfilled, according to a department news release from January.

“As a result, prisoner-on-prisoner violence is rampant, and, at times, is facilitated by corrupt guards seeking to curry favor with inmates,” the filing read.

The suit also claims mental health care is virtually “non-existent” at Parchman. One plaintiff diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder before arriving at the prison, the suit says, has made several unsuccessful attempts to see a psychiatrist. Another plaintiff has had multiple suicide attempts, the suit claims, but has received little to no mental health treatment.

The Mississippi Department of Corrections said Wednesday it does not comment on pending litigation.

Earlier this month, the Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation into the conditions of the state’s prisons to determine whether officials are doing enough to protect inmates from each other as well as review the quality of mental health care and suicide prevention.

CBS News recently spoke with four inmates currently housed in the prison’s most notorious cellblock: Unit 29. They complained of squalid conditions and said some guards smuggle drugs, weapons and cellphones into the facility.

“As a guard, you know who’s bringing in food for certain inmates, you know who’s bringing in drugs and knives. The thing is, you don’t really say anything because you don’t really know who you’re talking to,” a former guard told CBS News. “They need to get someone to really see what inmates and guards are going through.”

Travonta Riley, 28, spent five years behind bars at Parchman on a marijuana conviction before he was released on January 13.

“I understand we’re incarcerated but you’re still supposed to treat us like humans. I know it ain’t supposed to be easy for us but it ain’t supposed to be that hard with our living conditions,” said Riley, who was housed in Unit 29. “If I go two weeks without a shower, of course, I’m going to act out.”

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