Mississippi lawmakers propose cuts at Parchman, reject improvement plan

Updated: Jan. 8, 2020 at 8:35 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - As problems pile up for the Mississippi Department of Corrections, lawmakers are proposing more cuts for state prisons.

They also rejected a plan to improve the safety of a unit where a Mid-South man died last week.

A phone call last Thursday was the last time Janice Wilkins heard from her son.

"I feel threatened get me some help now get me some help now I got to have some help now," said Wilkins.

Denorris Howell, 36, had been convicted of manslaughter in Marshall County and was serving his sentence at the state penitentiary at Parchman.

The next morning, Wilkins received another call.

This time, it was the prison chaplain, informing her that her son had died.

"Everything left my body," she said. "I had no control."

The coroner says Howell sustained a neck injury and died after getting into a fight with another inmate.

His death was one of three at Parchman in the last two weeks.

Howell was housed in Unit 29.

The Mississippi Department of Corrections planned to spend $22 million this year to make improvements to Unit 29, according to budget request documents.

MDOC said Unit 29 "has deteriorated to a point that it is no longer safe for staff or inmates."

The plan called for repairing the roof, re-enforcing walls and doorways in all cells and replacing doors and locks.

But the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, where all Mississippi agency budget requests must go, recommends the state spend $0 on MDOC's request.

In fact, they want to slash Parchman's budget by $2.6 million.

If the proposed cuts go through, Parchman's budget will have been cut by more than $10 million in three years.

Gov. Phil Bryant says his efforts to get lawmakers to increase corrections funding have fallen on deaf ears.

"What does the future look like? What does the next four years look like for the Department of Corrections?" Bryant asked. "Improvements must be made."

Governor-elect Tate Reeves, who chairs the Joint Legislative Budget Committee in his current role as lieutenant governor, declined to provide comment.

WMC Action News 5 also reached out to the vice-chair of that committee and to the chair and vice-chair of the corrections committee.

We did not hear back from any of them by our news deadline on Wednesday.

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