We the members of Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference wish to express our concern about recent reports regarding East Mississippi Correctional Facility just outside of Meridian. We have noted that a lawsuit has been filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center against the State because of shortcomings in the operation and management of EMCF by the Utah-based private company that operates the facility. Recently, SPLC filed a motion to have the suit certified as a class action one.
MRLC affirms the fundamental principles of the U.S. criminal-justice system and recognizes the need for well-run prisons as places to incarcerate those convicted of crimes; however, the duty of those who operate prisons is not only to incarcerate the guilty, but also to prepare those incarcerated for eventual re-entry into society.
While we could address many short-comings of the current criminal-justice system, in light of the recent reports, we will limit our concerns to what seem to us to be critical failures of those operating EMCF: Failure to provide sufficient care to the physical and mental health needs of the incarcerated; failure to maintain adequate medical records; failure to maintain sanitary conditions; excessive use of solitary confinement without proper supervision; inhumane treatment of some of the incarcerated; and failure to properly maintain the facility, leading to dangerous conditions, not only for prisoners, but for guards and the public at large.
Some argue in favor of "for-profit" prisons because of their supposed cost-effectiveness, their ability to reduce overcrowding in public prisons and the introduction of free-market competition to lower incarceration costs overall. As religious leaders, however, we are concerned about the moral—not to mention, the economic—problems that arise when the state contracts with privately-managed prisons.
In the criminal-justice system, the state takes upon itself custodial control over the day-to-day lives of the incarcerated. When the State deputizes private corporations (guided primarily by the goal of earning a profit), a system then exists that invites opportunities for abuse.
Private companies operating prisons do not have the same incentive as the state to rehabilitate offenders and prepare them for successful re-entry into society. Indeed, a private company depends on a regular flow of offenders into (or back into) its prisons, and thus has little incentive to rehabilitate the incarcerated.
Cost-saving measures in private prisons contribute to reduced services such as medical care (clearly evident at EMCF), education, job training and counseling. This, in, turn leads to higher recidivism rates for those released from private prisons compared to public ones, suggesting that the supposed cost-saving benefits of private prisons are minimal, if not non-existent.
For these reasons, we the undersigned membership of MRLC, call on government officials to end the contract with the private company operating EMCF and to reclaim its responsibility for management of EMCF.
Rt. Rev. Duncan M. Gray, III, Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi; Interim Convener, Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference
Bishop H. Julian Gordy, Southeastern Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
Presiding Bishop Joseph R. Campbell, South Central Diocese COCHUSA
Rev. Clay F. Lee, Bishop, Retired, United Methodist Church
Bishop William R. Houck, Bishop Emeritus, Catholic Diocese of Jackson
Rev. Msgr. Elvin Sunds, V.G., Catholic Diocese of Jackson
Rev. Jeremy R. Tobin, O.Praem, Priory of St. Moses the Black; Associate Pastor Christ the King, St. Mary, St. Therese Catholic Churches
Pastor Todd O. Watson, Pastor, United Methodist Church
Pastor Tom Clark, Pastor, Ascension Lutheran Church (ELCA)
Pastor James Carstensen, Retired, ELCA, Member, Ascension Lutheran Church
Rev. Dr. Joey Shelton, Senior Pastor, Galloway Memorial United Methodist Church
Rev. Kyle Dice Seage
Rabbi Matt Dreffin, Member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis
Rabbi Jeremy Simons, Director of Rabbinic Services, Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life
Reverend Su McLain
Julia and T. W. Lewis, Emeriti Faculty, Millsaps College
Dorothy Triplett, Jackson MS, Episcopalian and community volunteer
Liz Hudson, Fondren Presbyterian Church USA
Rims Barber, Fondren Presbyterian Church USA
Rabbi Debra Kassoff, Hebrew Union Congregation; Beth Israel Congregation
Jeanne Luckett, St. Peter Catholic Cathedral
Susan Maneck, Jackson Baha'i Community
Rev. Carol Burnett
Rev. John Brashier, Associate Pastor, Wells Memorial United