What: Lawsuit Filed Against MDOC for Its Failure to Protect Prisoners During Pandemic
When: Filed May 14, 2020
Who: ACLU of Mississippi
Contact: Joshua Tom, Legal Director and Interim Executive Director, ACLU of Mississippi, jtom@aclu-ms.org

Led by the Mississippi Center for Justice, the ACLU of Mississippi along with the Hogan Lovells law firm and attorney Mark Whitburn of Arlington, Texas, filed a class action lawsuit against Mississippi’s two largest prisons for taking inadequate steps to prevent infection and mitigate an outbreak of COVID-19.  View the complaint here. According to the lawsuit, the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (CMCF) and the South Mississippi Correctional Institution (SMCI) have not implemented minimum prevention practices required to reduce transmission and identify cases of COVID-19 infection. Among other measures, the suit seeks implementation of guidance provided to correctional facilities by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

The lawsuit seeks to proceed as a class action on behalf of the approximately 6,000 individuals housed at CMCF and SMCI. It also seeks to certify a subclass of persons who have disabilities that put them at increased risk of contracting, becoming severely ill from, and dying from COVID-19. The case is brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.   

“The COVID-19 pandemic presents an unprecedented threat to Mississippi and to the world,” said Joshua Tom, Interim Executive Director and Legal Director at the ACLU of Mississippi. “Our prisons and jails are at heightened risk to this disease. Many if not all of the precautions we are told to take every day – personal hygiene, cleaning and social distancing to name a few – are difficult if not impossible in prisons and jails. Make no mistake, an outbreak in a prison or jail will not be contained there as many people come in and out of those facilities every day, such as medical staff and guards. This is not a hypothetical risk, as some of the worst outbreaks in the county have originated in our prisons and jails.”

The lawsuit alleges that Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) has not implemented basic pandemic response protocols such as frequent cleaning and disinfection of living units, as well as provision of sufficient hand soap and cleaning supplies. The lawsuit also cites failures to adequately isolate and test residents, as well as failures to communicate key infection prevention information.

The plaintiffs are represented by Paloma Wu and Rob McDuff of MCJ, Joshua Tom of the ACLU of Mississippi, Mark Whitburn of Arlington, Texas, and Jonathan Abram, John Hamilton, Madeleine Bech, and Sydney Rupe of the Hogan Lovells law firm.  The lawsuit was filed against the Interim Commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections and the Superintendents of CMCF and SMCI.