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In 1843 a penitentiary in four city squares in central Jackson became Mississippi's first state prison; it is located where the Capitol of Mississippi currently resides. As a result of the U.S. Civil War, the Jackson prison was destroyed, and the state had no prison. Prisoners were leased to third parties, which held custody of the inmates. After December 31, 1894, prisoners sentenced by the State of Mississippi could no longer be hired or leased by third parties. After the convict leasing system ended, the State of Mississippi began to acquire property to build its own correctional facilities. The state bought the Rankin Farm in Rankin County, 12 miles (19 km) away from Jackson, in 1895. Afterwards the state purchased the Oakley Farm, located in Hinds County, 25 miles (40 km) from Jackson. The state government purchased land in Sunflower County in January 1901, leading to the establishment of the Parchman Farm (now Mississippi State Penitentiary).
The Department of Corrections opened in 1976 to oversee the existing Mississippi state prisons.
By 2011 MDOC operated below capacity due to methods used to reduce the prison population, such as increased use of house arrest and conditional medical release. As of 2011 the state prisons are over 2,000 spaces below capacity. With private prisons included, that is about 4,000 beds below capacity.
Before going to their assigned facilities and after their transfer from county jails, most prison inmates are sent to the Reception & Classification Center (R&C) in the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (CMCF) to be classified according to behavior level and assessed for treatment. The classification process takes around 30 days.
Most Male inmates who are sentenced to MDOC by the courts or who are returned to MDOC as parole violators, probation violators, intensive supervision program (ISP) (house arrest) violators, earned release supervision (ERS) violators, and suspension violators are placed at R&C. All women inmates who are sentenced to MDOC by the courts or who are returned to MDOC as parole violators, probation violators, ISP violators, ERS violators, and suspension violators are placed in 1A or 2B at CMCF. Male death row inmates transferred from county jails immediately go to the Mississippi State Penitentiary, the location of the male death row.
Each prisoner receives a security classification. The classifications are:
MDOC contracts with Wexford Health Sources, Inc., headquartered in Green Tree, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. Wexford provides medical services to inmates at state-operated facilities. Each privately-operated facility has its own contracted medical services provider.
Wexford was awarded the $95 million MDOC contract in 2006. Previously MDOC contracted with Correctional Medical Services (CMS), headquartered in Creve Coeur, Missouri, near St. Louis. CMS's contract was scheduled to begin on July 1, 2003.
MDOC performs executions at the Mississippi State Penitentiary. Male death row offenders are housed in the Mississippi State Penitentiary, while female death row offenders are housed in the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility.
As of September 1, 2008 the Mississippi Department of Corrections has 26,274 inmates in its custody. 17,677 (67.28%) are Black, 8,269 (31.47%) are White, 236 (.9%) are Hispanic, 43 (.16%) are Asian, 27 (.1%) are Native American, and 22 (.06%) have that data unavailable. Of the 23,692 male inmates, 16,366 (69.08%) are Black, 7,030 (29.67%) are White, 222 (.94%) are Hispanic, 35 (.15%) are Asian, 23 (.1%) are Native American, and 16 (.07%) have that data unavailable. Of the 2,582 female inmates, 1,311 (50.77%) are Black, 1,239 (47.99%) are White, 14 (.54%) are Hispanic, 8 (.31%) are Asian, 4 (.15%) are Native American, and 6 (.23%) have that data unavailable.
All state prisons are in unincorporated areas:
Men may have hair that is not more than 3 inches (76 mm) in length. Men may have beards and goatees up to .5 inches (13 mm) in length.
Most prisoner outfits are striped. As of 1997, green stripes indicate lower security prisoners, black stripes indicate prisoners with a level higher than the ones with green stripes, and red stripes indicate high security prisoners.
Since the establishment of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, 6 officers have died in the line of duty.
The New Jersey Department of Corrections, the state prison system of New Jersey, established the "Be Smart Choose Freedom" television advertisement campaign in 2005. The State of New Jersey produced 30-60 second public service announcements to warn state residents against going to prison. MDOC decided to start its own "Be Smart Choose Freedom" campaign and use the commercials that aired in New Jersey.
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