By William Moore
CORINTH – Disturbing allegations of misconduct, including prisoners with keys to the jail, forced the Mississippi Department of Corrections to remove 233 state inmates Thursday from the Alcorn County Regional Correctional Facility.
The state inmates were bussed to other MDOC facilities.
State Auditor Stacey Pickering said the investigation uncovered evidence of widespread contraband in the jail, the use of state inmates on private property and possibly prisoners leaving the state of Mississippi.
“These allegations were disturbing to hear,” said MDOC Commissioner Marshall Fisher. “Inmates allegedly were allowed to change uniforms disguising their custody status, work on personal vehicles and go across state lines.”
Before the inmates were removed, agents from MDOC and the Auditor’s Office conducted a search of the facility.
“There were prisoners with access to keys and personal clothing,” said Pickering. “It appears to have been a free-for-all at this facility.”
The search uncovered personal clothing, four dozen cell phones, electronic devices, razors, knives and a large stash of loose tobacco, along with rolling papers and lighters.
“We also found several keys to the facility during the search,” Fisher said. “Keys to the commissary and keys to the front door were found in cells or on prisoners.”
Thursday allegations grew from a larger investigation of corruption in Mississippi prisons that led to former MDOC commissioner Chris Epps to be indicted.
Agents from the Office of the State Auditor and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were on hand Thursday interviewing various people. OSA Agents are looking into the use of state inmates working on private property, the possible misappropriation of funds received for the sale of pallets by employees of the Justice Center, as well as other irregularities in the Justice Center’s finances.
Investigators will also be looking into how the contraband got into the jail, which could lead to criminal charges against corrections officers.
“We take this very serious,” said Fisher, “but it is too early in the investigation to start speculating about possible criminal charges. This is no reflection on the people of Corinth and Alcorn County.
This is the second time in two years that MDOC has had to suspend housing inmates at the Corinth facility. In November 2013, MDOC stopped sending inmates to the regional after learning six ineligible inmates had been given unauthorized passes. One of those inmates died while out, alerting MDOC to the violation.
The county must submit a written plan of action including preventative measures to avoid any future occurrences related to security breaches. Only then will MDOC reconsider assigning state inmates again.