CENTERVILLE -- Significant improvements have been made at a Mississippi prison being sued in federal court for alleged inhumane treatment of inmates and deplorable conditions, says an official with a Centerville company managing the facility.
"We were brought in to turn it around," Issa Arnita, a spokesman for Management & Training Corp., said Monday. "We believe we have done that."
The class-action suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of prisoners at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility near Meridian. It names the Mississippi Department of Corrections and agency officials as defendants.
Tara Booth, an agency spokeswoman, said the department had not been served with the complaint and would respond to the allegations about EMCF in court.
MTC, hired by the state in July 2012 to operate EMCF and two other Mississippi facilities, is not listed as a defendant in the suit.
"We are going after the body that brought MTC here," Jody Owens, an attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center based in Montgomery, Ala., said Monday regarding why MTC isn't a defendant.
The lawsuit said rats climb over prisoners' beds and mice crawl out of broken toilets.
"The extreme deprivations and extraordinarily harsh conditions at EMCF have even fostered commerce in rats: Some prisoners capture rats, put them on improvised leashes, and sell them as pets to the seriously mentally ill," the lawsuit said.
The complaint said the prison houses some of the state's most severely mentally ill prisoners, including juveniles, and many of them aren't receiving proper care.
A 16-year-old inmate was put in a cell with an adult and was sexually assaulted, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit also said rapes, stabbings and beatings were "rampant."
"Prisoner-on-prisoner stabbings and beatings are frequent because the locking mechanism on the cell doors can readily be defeated, and some officers are complicit in unlocking doors to allow violence to occur," the lawsuit said.
Some prisoners are denied care for so long that they set fires in their cells to get attention, the lawsuit said. It also said broken toilets force some prisoners to relieve themselves on trays or in plastic bags, which they then toss through slots in their cell doors.
However, allegations of prisoner neglect, violence and unsanitary conditions at EMCF conflict with improvements MTC has made since taking over management of the facility, Arnita said.
An independent health inspection in April showed no signs of rodent infestation, while offender-on-offender assaults decreased 74 percent and use-of-force incidents have dropped 60 percent from the prior year, he said.
However, conditions at EMCF have gotten worse since MTC took over management, Owens said.
"The majority of the (lawsuit) complaint has been there since MTC has been there," he said. "For them to take that position (that things have gotten better) is incredulous and definitely not supported by the evidence."
EMCF employs 52 medical and mental health professionals. In addition to doctors and nurses, MTC has hired an additional two psychologists with doctorates as well as 10 counselors to help offenders with mental health concerns, Arnita said.
MTC has also developed 45 educational and vocational classes for inmates. More than 700 are enrolled in these programs. These classes include Adult Basic Education, GED, literacy, anger management, life skills, computer technology and facility maintenance courses along with others, Arnita said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.