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UM Faculty, Students Respond to MS Prison Investigations

Story contributed by Artez Gibson and J.T. Butts
agibson4@go.olemiss.edu, jbutts@go.olemiss.edu

In just a three-month span, 15 inmates have died and 29 staff members have been injured in Mississippi state penitentiaries. The US Department of Justice is now launching an investigation to examine the conditions inside the prisons. 

Associate Professor of English and African American Studies Patrick Alexander discusses how media influence may spark a change. Photo by J.T. Butts. 

Patrick Alexander, associate professor of English and African American studies at UM, says that this investigation could spark a change. 

“I do think that having the department of justice in this role is important,” Alexander said. “You have a lot more data and a lot more information. And for me, you have a national community that is taking all of that data seriously so that something can happen.”

Some students on campus have been taking the issues in Mississippi prisons seriously for some time. President of the student chapter of the NAACP, Jailien Grant, wants to be sure that the incarcerated individuals know that they are not alone.

“We hosted an event drafting letters to the inmates,” Grant said. “Overall, we really wanted to help uplift their spirits and know that we are here for them, even if our state is not.” 

The pressure is mounting on the state, too. Celebrities such as Jay-Z, Big K.R.I.T and T.I. are now funding a lawsuit demanding that the conditions are improved. They also hosted a rally at the Mississippi State Capitol to voice their concerns.

“My hope is that, in the high production of these news stories, that people will be moved to productive action. I think that’s the positive side of having the Washington Post and New York Times covering this,” Alexander said. 

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