|Because of the
early settlement of the lower Mississippi
territory, the first reported prison to
house felons was developed in Natchez around
The first centralized prison, later to be
called The Walls, was not completed
until 50 years later with the opening of the
penitentiary in Jackson, April 15, 1840.
The Walls, located on the present
site of the new capitol building was
developed at a cost of $75,000 and built
with inmate labor.
The Walls was capable of housing 200
inmates. According to historical accounts,
28 prisoners were placed in the new prison
on opening day.
Between 1840 and 1860, there was a shift to
the use of prison labor to manufacture
course-cotton fabrics, bale rope and hemp,
and cotton bagging for mechanical trades.
By 1852 The Walls was experiencing
over crowding. With a reported population of
An additional 40 acres of land near the
prison was purchased and over 1,300 cords of
wood harvested using inmate labor.
The need for manpower in the Confederate
Army led the governor to pardon 40 inmates
to be mustered into the ranks of the
Confederate Army. Other inmates were moved
into county jails so the prison could be
converted into a munitions plant.
The prison fell prey to Sherman's Federal
Army in May, 1863, as it swept across the
south toward Atlanta.
By 1866 architects reported that the prison
was ready to comfortably house 130 state
Pursuant to a legislative act in 1866,
Governor B. J. Humphries reported on January
24, 1867, that the penitentiary had been
leased under a $100,000 bond to J. W. Young
and Company for 14 years. This move was made
to hasten the rehabilitation of the war torn
In 1894, the legislature appropriated
$125,000 for the purchase of plantation land
parcels including: 3,200 acres in Rankin
County; 2,700 acres at Oakley Plantation in
Hinds County; and 2,000 acres at Belmont
Plantation in Holmes County. State prisoners
were immediately moved to these sites.
In 1900 the legislature appropriated $80,000
for the purchase of the 3,789 acre Parchman
Plantation located in Sunflower County.
In 1901, four stockades were built at
Parchman and state prisoners were moved
there to begin clearing efforts for
cultivation of crops at the sprawling delta
Because of the unique dispersed
configuration of the camps, the state
penitentiary has been referred to as "the
prison without walls."
On February 8, 1971, the United States
District Court of the Northern District of
Mississippi intervened, in the landmark
class action suit Gates vs. Collier. Key
Issues of Gates vs. Collier included:
Racial segregation of inmates
In 1972, Federal Judge William Keady ordered
the state to devise a plan to remedy the
situation at Parchman. As a result, the
following improvements were made at the
Use of corporal punishment
Punishment of inmates
Poor medical care for inmates
Poor shakedown procedures
Many inmates had weapons
Drugs and alcohol were plentiful
Racial segregation was forbidden
The state responded, closing the old units
during the 1970’s. However, at best the new
development program completed by the state
was less than effective in meeting needs of
a growing prison population. The new prison
facilities developed in the period of the
Mail censorship was curtailed
Living conditions were greatly upgraded
Many of the older units were closed and
several new units were built
Some existing units were renovated The
facilities at the penitentiary were
required to be closer to each other
Trusty guards were replaced by
All forms of corporal punishment were
Inmates’ rules and regulations were
Formal disciplinary procedures were
Medical care was upgraded
Better contraband control measures were
Units 10, 12, 20
Units 22, 23
& MSP Hospital
Units 24E, 25
Units 26,27, 28
The new prison facilities developed in the
1970's included 3080 beds at a cost of
The Mississippi Department of Corrections,
which was created by an act of the
legislature was formed on July 1, 1976, by
the merging of the Mississippi Penitentiary
Board and the Mississippi Probation and
The department began to decentralize by
setting up Community Facilities and
During this period, the department also began to
recognize, and provide for the treatment
needs of offenders. In February 1975, the
Pre Release Job Assistance Program was
initiated. The program was designed to help
offenders locate employment and also provide
information regarding applications,
interviews and successful workplace habits.
In May 1996, the Alcohol and Drug Treatment
Center was opened in recognition of, and to
counter, the detrimental effects and
incarceration rates related to the abuse of
alcohol and drugs.
In January, 1986, the department opened the
Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (CMCF)
located at Pearl, Mississippi. This was the
first major institutional facility to be
located away from Parchman. The initial
capacity was 667. All female offenders were
moved from Parchman to this facility.
On April 13, 1990, MDOC opened the South
Mississippi Correctional Institution (SMCI),
located in Leakesville, Mississippi. The
original capacity at SMCI was 516.
In addition to CMCF and SMCI, the MDOC
opened seventeen community work centers and
four restitution centers.
With the move toward regional prisons, the
Department of Corrections has shifted its
prison program efforts from an agricultural
plantation operation to a wide variety of
prison industry projects coupled with
vocational training embracing a number of
skills found in the free world labor market.
Emphasis is also being given to providing an
education for those in the prison population
who demonstrate a sincere desire to learn.
On August 23, 1994, the State Prison
Emergency Construction and Management Board
(SPECM) was formed into law in section
47-5-1201 of the Mississippi Code of 1972,
Annotated. The purpose of the board was to
alleviate the immediate and the projected
operating capacity needs of the state
correctional system by providing for the
immediate and long-term addition of
correctional facilities. It was the intent
of the Legislature that agencies expedite
the procurement of facilities to alleviate
the short-term emergency capacity needs of
the correctional system.
As a result of the efforts of SPECM and the
ongoing efforts of MDOC administrations, the
MDOC has in operation the three state run
prisons, eleven regional prisons, six
private prisons, seventeen community work
centers and four restitution centers.
In February 1998, MDOC rectified all
discrepancies in the Gates vs. Collier
By contract, all private and regional
facilities are required to be accredited by
the American Correctional Association (ACA).
As of May 2003, all three state run prisons
are ACA accredited.