By Charles D. Owens, II
The Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC), under the leadership of the new Commissioner Marshall Fisher, has revived the practice of group punishment. Under this revived practice, entire prisons re punished for an individual’s misconduct.
Recent examples include an incident where a single inmate fought with a single guard (the guard was not injured), an altercation involving only three inmates, and an incident where contraband smuggled in by a guard was discovered. In each of these instances, rather than punishing only those involved, administrators locked the entire prison down and suspended privileges of every inmate in the prison. Phones were turned off, TVs removed from the units, all commissary suspended, and all visits cancelled. Inmates cannot even purchase postage to write home or toiletries to maintain basic hygiene. Not even attorney phone calls are allowed. Commissioner Fisher has made it clear that this group punishment practice will continue to be used until misconduct and contraband are no longer problems.
The underlying message is clear: Fisher wants inmates to do the staff’s jobs and prevent misconduct and contraband. MDOC is essentially telling 22,000 inmates that if they do not want to be punished by losing their privileges for indeterminate periods of time, they need to control other inmates and prevent incidents being used to justify the group punishments.
Group punishment has never been effective or useful. Both the military and the prison systems ceased such practices years ago. It is in fact a dangerous practice that only causes conflict and violence among those affected. Reviving this practice in Mississippi is a step backward that will have dire consequences if left unchecked.
Of course this is somewhat expected, as Marshall Fisher has military, law enforcement, and political experience—but he has no corrections experience whatsoever. When the Governor places a man with no experience in corrections in charge of the Department of Corrections, such regression is to be expected to continue until challenged in court. ■