WALNUT GROVE – Nine inmates suffered cuts and stab wounds during a fight at a privately run prison in central Mississippi, and the facility was on lockdown Friday, officials said.
A fight broke out about 10 p.m. Thursday among a group of inmates in one of the six housing units, said spokesman Issa Arnita of Management and Training Corporation, which runs the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility through a state contract.
“Officers attempted to stop the disturbance, but it quickly escalated,” he said. “The facility’s emergency response team was activated. The team used chemical agents to gain control of the inmates. The incident lasted one hour. The local police and sheriff’s departments were on site as a backup.”
Arnita said the prison was on lockdown Friday.
“We’re trying to determine how many offenders were actually involved the incident. The unit where the disturbance took place houses 240 inmates,” he said.
Nine inmates were injured. Arnita said seven were transported by ambulance to the local hospital. Three were then airlifted to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. One inmate has since been returned to the prison.
“We don’t have details on their conditions, and no names are being released at this time. No correctional officers were injured,” he said.
The prison, the Mississippi Department of Corrections and local authorities are investigating the fight.
The Walnut Grove prison has a history of troubles.
In April, a federal prison monitor reported violence was out of control, drugs were being smuggled in and guards are not adequately trained.
The documents were filed by monitors who oversee the prison and plaintiffs who sued over conditions there.
MTC, who took over operation of the prison in 2012, disputed most of the findings. MTC said the prison “has made great progress in creating a safer environment for offenders and staff.”
A Dec. 31 fight between two gangs left 16 inmates hurt and showed more improvements were needed, the monitor said.
An MTC report said the fight went on for about an hour, with inmates using homemade knives and other weapons.
Six prison guards and one supervisor were fired or resigned after the December fight, court papers said. Another staff member was placed on administrative leave.
The monitor’s report said, among other findings, that contraband was being smuggled into the prison and security personnel were ignoring rules violations and fraternizing with prisoners.
The prison is under legal scrutiny because of earlier misdeeds. The state removed youth offenders from Walnut Grove after U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves described conditions as “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts” while it was being managed by Florida-based GEO Group.
Reeves’ order came after a Justice Department report charged the state was “deliberately indifferent” to sexual abuse, overuse of force and inadequate medical care for young inmates.
The state agreed to improve conditions. GEO Group gave up its contract and the Department of Corrections hired MTC to house adult inmates at Walnut Grove. Since then, all parties agree conditions have improved.
The court monitors said half the security staff in December had less than one year’s experience. Vail said the staff doesn’t have “the necessary skill, experience, and custody expertise” to manage high-risk inmates and called on the state to limit the prison to medium- and minimum-security inmates.
MTC, though, said staff meets state training standards.
Utah-based MTC operates the East Mississippi Correctional Facility near Meridian, the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility in Walnut Grove, the Marshall County Correctional Facility in Holly Springs and the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility in Woodville.