In Mississippi, five inmates have been killed due to stabbings and attacks within the past week.
NBC News reported on Friday that 36-year-old Denorris Howell died after sustaining neck wounds in a fatal attack following an altercation with his cellmate at Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman.
He was the fifth inmate who was killed at a state prison since the new year and the third in the week at that actual prison, which is the oldest in the state and is also known as Parchman Farm.
Sunflower County Coroner Heather Burton told the Clarion-Ledger that three killings in three days at the prison was “unprecedented” in her 12 years working there.
“Things are kind of surreal at this point,” she said. “Every time the phone rings at this point, it’s another one.”
Mississippi State Penitentiary is the state’s only maximum-security prison for men, with more than 3,500 inmate beds.
Sunday’s death of a 40-year-old inmate prompted a statewide lockdown of the facilities, which is still in effect.
“Not to be dismissive of the seriousness of these events, but nobody should be surprised about what we’re seeing,” Cliff Johnson, the director of the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law, said. “We’ve been predicting this and expecting this with widespread violence in facilities that are in many instances out of control.”
The rash of murders is believed to be related to gang activity.
In 2014, The Clarion-Ledger launched an investigation within Mississippi’s prison system—which has one of the nation’s highest incarceration rates.
The newspaper found that “gangs rule” the prison and despite a so-called “zero tolerance” by corrections officials, there’s no accountability for the offenders.
Family members were also cited and said that loved ones in state prisons remain in fear of “warring” gangs.
At the time, then-state Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps dismissed the power of the gangs and even told the outlet that his department doesn’t even recognize gangs. Instead, he identified them as “security threat groups.”
Epps later resigned in 2014 amid a federal investigation and is now serving nearly 20 years in prison for bribery while commissioner.
A statement from the Mississippi Department of Corrections has yet to be made but the state’s governor, Phil Bryant, is reportedly vacationing with his family.
Last night, he hopped on social media, saying he’d been in contact with prison officials throughout the week.
“The people who perpetrated this violence will be charged and brought to justice,” he tweeted. Gang violence will not be tolerated in state prisons or on our streets.”