Prison death

Fifteen deaths of Mississippi inmates in one month is normal? That’s what this state’s corrections commissioner, Pelicia Hall, claims.

We’d like to see the statistics to back up her assertion. They shouldn’t be hard to pull. The Mississippi Department of Corrections has records surely of every inmate who dies while in its custody. Go back the past year or two and give the names and dates of death of every inmate who has passed away. Then let’s see what the numbers show.

The problem with MDOC is that it provides very little information on inmates — living or dead — unless it’s compelled to do so.

The Department of Corrections says the 15 inmates who died in August ranged in age from 24 to 78. The deaths have been spread out among prisons all over the state.

News reports about most of the deaths have lacked medical details, although several of those who died were in a hospital or similar facility instead of a prison. MDOC has attributed only one death, of an inmate found in his cell, to a fight. Two were supposedly suicides. For the others, Hall has said she believed they were mostly from natural causes.  Coroners in three counties where state prisons are located have initially confirmed her assumption.

Autopsies are planned, though, and Gov. Phil Bryant has said that all the deaths will be investigated. He said inmates who die “are just as important as anyone else in the state of Mississippi whose lives have been lost.”

If the governor is sincere about that, he can show it by telling Hall and the Department of Corrections to be more forthcoming with the details they almost certainly do have.

When a person dies in the free world, authorities in most cases don’t have to wait on an autopsy to let the public know what the other evidence points to as far as the cause of death. When an inmate dies behind bars, or while under guard in a hospital, there’s no legitimate reason for being less forthcoming.

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Bragging rights for another year are on the line tomorrow night, as St. Joseph Catholic School takes on St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, in a storied matchup formerly dubbed “The Holy War.”