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Fifth inmate killed in more violence in Mississippi prisons

A fifth inmate has died violently in a Mississippi prison, raising further questions about security as clashes between prisoners continue.

Sunflower County Coroner Heather Burton told local news outlets that 36-year-old Dennoris Howell was stabbed to death before dawn Friday at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. Howell is the fifth inmate to be killed by another inmate since Dec. 29, and the third at Parchman.

Burton and Sunflower County Sheriff James Haywood have described the violence as related to a dispute between members of gangs, but officials with the Mississippi Department of Corrections haven’t said what’s driving the violence. All state prisons statewide are locked down, confining inmates to cells and blocking visitors.

Another inmate was stabbed in the 3 a.m. Friday incident and taken to a Memphis, Tennessee, hospital. He was not identified.

The stabbing took place on the same unit at Parchman where a 32-year-old inmate was stabbed and killed Thursday in a fracas that left multiple prisoners injured. That incident brought a heavy police response, with state troopers, corrections officers and deputies from multiple counties responding. Inmates set another unit at Parchman on fire. Mississippi Department of Corrections spokeswoman Grace Simmons Fisher said the fire caused no structural damage. Inmates were evacuated and later moved back in, Fisher said.

Howell was convicted of manslaughter in Marshall County in 2012 and sentenced to 17 years in prison. The troubles began D at South Mississippi Correctional Institution near Leakesville, when inmate Terradance Dobbins, 40, was killed and two others hurt. Prison officials said the killing was part of a “major disturbance.” The Greene County prison can pose particular difficulties to secure because hundreds of prisoners are housed in bunks in one large room, instead of in individual cells. The prison was locked down for almost all of 2019, in part because of guard shortages.

Mississippi’s prison system has struggled to fill guard vacancies, with outgoing Corrections Commissioner Pelicia Hall saying it’s difficult to attract people with salaries that start below $25,000 a year. Some of the guards that do get hired end up bringing illegal drugs and cell phones into prisons, with some being criminally prosecuted. Hall announced Tuesday that she will resign in mid-January to take a private sector job signaling incoming Gov. Tate Reeves won’t retain her upon taking office Jan. 14.

Tuesday at Parchman, 25-year-old inmate Walter Gates was stabbed and several other inmates were injured during a fight that spread to multiple units of the sprawling prison, which sits on thousands of acres in the Mississippi Delta.

Earlier Friday, before the killing at Parchman, 26-year-old prisoner Gregory Emary of Hernando was killed at the Chickasaw County Regional Correctional Facility, a county-run jail that holds state inmates. The violence came even as U.S. District Judge William Barbour ruled Tuesday that while conditions may have previously been poor at East Mississippi Correctional Facility near Meridian, there’s no longer any evidence that the privately run prison is violating inmates’ rights.