As the state legislature takes over, one of the most pressing issues will be one that has seemingly gone unseen for many years. The riots, violence and killings at Mississippi prisons in the past months will deal newly elected Gov. Tate Reeves a genuine crisis to begin his first term.

At least three inmates have been killed in violence at Parchman Penitentiary in the Mississippi Delta. Violence and lockdowns have plagued other prisons in the state. Most of that violence can be attributed to gang warfare behind bars. 

Couple rising gang warfare with a terrible lack of guards to run prisons and the challenge will be one of Reeves’ toughest. According to a CBS News report, nearly half of the 1,300 corrections positions are unfilled and 65 percent of the guards are women. With an estimated starting salary of $26,000 — the national poverty line for a family of four — is it any wonder the employment ranks are so decimated?

So far, state leaders’ reactions have been tepid at best, in part blaming the inmates alone. But the prison system in Mississippi has been in disarray for years. In 2017, former head of the state prison system Christopher Epps was sentenced to 20 years in a bribery-kickback scheme. On Dec. 31, Pelicia Hall announced her resignation as head of the state prison system. Judging by photos purported to be from inside Parchman, conditions for even the most hardened criminal are horrific.

It will take a huge effort to rein in the madness that is the state prison system. That is the immediate problem. Long term, our problems are trying to prevent gangs from flourishing inside and outside of prison.

On Saturday, The Coalition for Unity & Non-Violence will meet at the Laurel Jones County Library from 10:15 a.m.-noon.

“If you’re worried about violence and gang influences, be part of the solution,” Capers said.

The group’s mission is “making practical plans and taking real action,” according to literature that is being passed out by organizers.

Gangs don’t control the streets in the same fashion as they control the state prisons — at least not here. Let’s keep it that way.

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