JACKSON, Miss. -- State corrections officials have until July 17 to respond to a federal lawsuit that challenges conditions at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility near Meridian in Lauderdale County.
The Mississippi Department of Corrections was sued in May over what the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center called "barbaric" conditions at the prison.
Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps said in a news release Thursday that he is working with the current operator of the prison to respond to the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Jackson.
The current operator, Management and Training Corp., based in Centerville, Utah, is not a party to the lawsuit. MTC became operator of the prison in July of 2012, replacing The GEO Group Inc.
The prison has a capacity of 1,362 male inmates.
The lawsuit alleges that the inmates are living in sometimes filthy cells with rats and broken toilets, and they are denied access to medical and mental health care. The lawsuit also said rapes, stabbings and beatings are "rampant."
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.
Epps said it is MDOC's policy to let the facts play out in court.
"However, the allegations made against MDOC officials are unfairly damaging to its commitment to provide efficient and effective offender custody, care, control and treatment consistent with sound correctional principles and constitutional practices
"MDOC has monitors at all of its prisons, including EMCF. MDOC was not satisfied with EMCF's previous operator, The GEO Group Inc., and the plaintiffs in the recent lawsuit agreed with the decision to go with a new operator.
"The plaintiffs indicated they were happy when MTC was hired. Now they indicate they want the current operator fired. We believe that MTC is doing a good job, and are confident the court will agree," Epps said.