By Frederick H. Lowe
The Mississippi Department of Corrections, which operates the state’s prisons, has asked the FBI and another outside agency to investigate as many as 14 inmate deaths in August, although department officials claimed the number of deaths is not ‘out of line’ compared with previous months.
“I have been communicating with the FBI and the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, regarding our deaths,” said Pelicia E. Hall, commissioner of the state’s Department of Corrections, which houses more than 19,000 inmates in 30 facilities, including three state prisons and an equal number of private prisons.
In a news release dated August 28, Hall said she was responding to media inquiries about the deaths.
On August 21, the commission issued a news release, which said most of the “10 deaths for the month of August are from natural causes based on information readily available at the time.” CNN reported that 12 inmates died during the month, but it is not known what caused their deaths. NBC reported there have been 14 deaths.
“The Mississippi Department of Corrections takes seriously its constitutional mandate to provide health care for all individuals in its custody. All deaths are investigated to determine whether foul play is involved. If foul play is determined, the cases are referred to appropriate authorities,” Hall said. “Based on current information available, the department believes that a majority of the deaths are from natural causes in that they include cancer, coronary and other causes.”
The FBI’s Jackson, Mississippi, office would handle any investigation at the Department of Corrections, which is also based in the state capital of Jackson.
The FBI office opened in 1941, and in the 1960s and 1970s, agents investigated the high-profile murders of Medgar Evers, Mississippi State Field Director for the NAACP, and the triple murders of civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman by members of Klu Klux Klan and the police, two groups many people considered to be one in the same.
The bodies of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman were discovered in an earthen dam in 1964. Evers was gunned down in the driveway of his home in Jackson in 1963.
Hall is the first black woman named commissioner of the Department of Corrections.