Bill would allow Miss. to move death row inmates

By Jeff Amy/The Associated Press

JACKSON — A bill to let the state move male death row inmates from Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman to a private prison is headed to the governor’s desk.

The House gave final passage Monday to Senate Bill 2606 by a vote of 118-1. The bill passed the Senate earlier.

House Corrections Committee Chairman George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, suggested during debate Monday that the measure could make it easier for officials to control death row inmates.

Lawmakers said the Department of Corrections intends to shift some death row inmates to Wilkinson County Correctional Facility, a 1,000-bed private prison run by Corrections Corp. of America. The Woodville prison, run by the for-profit company based in Nashville, Tenn., includes a maximum-security unit.

The Corrections Department supports the bill, spokeswoman Tara Booth said, adding that executions would still take place at Parchman.

“This legislation is just an option,” Booth wrote in an email.

It wasn’t clear Monday if any other states house death row inmates in private prisons. Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center said he didn’t know of any.

“I don’t think it’s very common,” said Dieter, whose group is based in Washington, D.C.

Arizona considered such a move in 2009, but didn’t go through with it. That state was trying to privatize its entire prison system, and critics questioned whether it was proper for all death row inmates to be held by private companies. They also questioned whether companies could provide adequate security.

Flaggs said prison officials believe the ability to move prisoners back and forth could be a disciplinary tool to control inmates who have little to lose.

“They’re not going to put them all down there,” Flaggs told House members Monday. “They believe if they can move them from site to site, they’ll be able to better control them.”

Mississippi currently has 51 men on death row at Parchman, and two women on death row at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl, according to the Corrections Department website.

Flaggs claimed housing the men in Woodville would also cost the state less, but Booth was unable to produce figures late Monday. It was also unclear how many state inmates are currently housed at Woodville. Corrections Corp. of America could not be reached for comment.