A man imprisoned in a Mississippi correctional facility was found hanging in his cell Sunday morning, bringing the number of people to die recently in the state’s prison system to 12, leaving officials scrambling to get control of the deaths as activists become more vocal.
According to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Joshua Norman, 26, was found unresponsive in his single-man cell at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman after an 11:12 a.m. security check. He had been serving a five-year armed robbery sentence, information from the Mississippi Department of Corrections says. Sunflower County Coroner Heather Burton stated in a news release that “no foul play was involved,” and that “official cause of death and manner of death are pending autopsy results.”
Meanwhile, another man, Jermaine Tyler, 38, was also found dead in his cell at the Marshall County Correctional Facility at about 8:15 p.m. Saturday, the Clarion-Ledger reported. Tyler was serving a life sentence for capital murder and other charges, according to the MDOC.
Since Dec. 29, a dozen men have died in Mississippi prisons and nine were incarcerated at Parchman. Corrections officials have blamed gang violence for some of the deaths, but activists and the families of the inmates themselves have spoken out about horrid conditions that they say exist in the prison system.
The number of inmate deaths over the past month is double the MDOC average. Records show that 5.5 people died in custody per month, the Clarion-Ledger reports. This number of homicides and suicides are also unusual. Corrections records show the majority of deaths are from natural causes.
Danyelle Holmes, an advocate of the Mississippi Poor People’s Campaign led a rally on Jan. 7 at the Mississippi State Capitol crafted for families of the incarcerated, in response to the recent uprising.
“Families were terrified to speak in regards to their loved ones,” Holmes told theGrio earlier this month. “Many are so afraid of retaliation for speaking out, she says, that they have backed away in fear of what would happen on the inside to those they care about. She adds that “this is a matter of systematic issues that have gone unattended.”
Rukia Lumumba, founder of the People’s Advocacy Institute told theGrio in response to a series of uprisings in the state’s prison system that the conditions are behind what has happened. “People are at their breaking point, the conditions are so horrific inside, that the conditions have caused the violence. If people are forced to live in cages, that are put in place to break a person, then escalation can’t be too far behind.”
The deaths have also spurred a federal lawsuit from Jay-Z and ROC Nation on behalf of over two dozen prisoners who allege the two officials were willfully negligent in stopping the brutality that resulted in the deaths.
“These deaths are a direct result of Mississippi’s utter disregard for the people it has incarcerated and their constitutional rights,” reads the lawsuit, which was filed by Jay-Z’s lawyer Alex Spiro at the U.S. District Court in Greenville, Mississippi.