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Tate Reeves and state lawmakers are moving ahead with a proposal to reopen Walnut Grove Correctional Facility, shuttered in following years of scandals, prisoner violence and federal oversight. The empty Leake County prison is among "very few" facilities in Mississippi equipped to house certain high-security inmates from the State Penitentiary at Parchman, Reeves said last week. But it was also once deemed among the worst prisons in the country. The governor ly announced plans to close most of Parchman's Unit 29, plagued by poor living conditions and violence.
As state officials search for housing for hundreds of the state's most dangerous offenders, Walnut Grove has emerged as a leading candidate. About men remain in Unit 29 after hundreds were transferred to a private prison in Tutwiler earlier this year, and several dozen more lower-security inmates were recently shipped to regional jails.
The committee also heard from Management and Training Corp. The Utah-based prison contractor, which has a checkered past running Walnut Grove, wants to manage the facility again if it reopens. We don't know.
Opened in as a youth prison, Walnut Grove Correction Facility later transitioned and expanded, housing as many as 1, adult offenders. It has security features for maximum-security inmates not found at many prisons, but it also has amenities such as a full-size indoor basketball court, a library and classrooms.
From last year: Walnut Grove prison sits empty. Could reopening it save Mississippi millions? Glenn Kornbrek, a deputy executive director at the Department of Finance and Administration, told lawmakers the state is still paying down millions of dollars in debt it racked up building and expanding the facility, and the Mississippi Department of Corrections doesn't technically own the prison outright yet.
Before it closed due to budget cuts and a declining prisoner population, the state was paying Management and Training Corp. When Walnut Grove closed, state prison officials said there was enough space to move its remaining inmates to state-run facilities. Reopening the prison would reverse that decision. Sergio Molina, an MTC vice president, told lawmakers Wednesday his company would be interested in operating the prison again.
The contractor — which took over Walnut Grove in — still runs three other Mississippi correctional facilities. Prisoners at Walnut Grove faced "barbaric, unconstitutional conditions," said a federal lawsuit filed inwhen the facility still housed both youth and adult offenders. The allegations included guards having sex with inmates, smuggling drugs to inmates and denying them medical treatment.
The lawsuit led to a U. Department of Justice investigation, which in reported sexual misconduct at the facility was "among the worst that we have seen" in the nation. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves wrote what happened at Walnut Grove "paints a picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world. The youth offenders moved out, and the facility was placed under federal oversight. But that didn't stop the chaos, as major riots broke out in following years. Mother Jones magazine in put Walnut Grove on a list of "America's 10 worst prisons.
Walnut Grove also played a central role in the corruption and bribery scandal surrounding the former Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps. The investigation began after reports of sexual abuse of an inmate at a halfway house tied to the prison by the town's former mayor, and also involved illegal kickbacks related to construction of expansions at the prison.
The solution is not moving inmates around to more private prisons, Anderson said, but reducing the prison population by letting nonviolent offenders out. But the prison reopening would be a boon to the local economy. It employed aboutand when it closed, local businesses suffered, town employees were furloughed and police took a pay cut. When it closed: Walnut Grove: Prison loss 'devastating'.
Senate Corrections Chairman Juan Barnett, D-Heidelberg, said legislators will need to take a cautious approach and "speak to the community, because the prison is in their backyard. Right now the people don't feel like they're part of the process. Help make it possible. Contact Luke Ramseth at or lramseth gannett. Follow lramseth on Twitter. Facebook Twitter. State officials consider reopening Walnut Grove prison, which faced scandal and violence Gov. Reeves and lawmakers say the facility could take inmates from Parchman's Unit Luke Ramseth The Clarion-Ledger.
Show Caption. Hide Caption. Walnut Grove could lift strain on Parchman. Sarah Warnock, Mississippi Clarion Ledger. Share your feedback to help improve our site!Adult wants sex Walnut Grove
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State officials consider reopening Walnut Grove prison, which faced scandal and violence