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Imperfect Justice, Part 1 – At Risk

April 26, 2015

Mamertine Prison, Rome, Author Chris 73 (CC BY-SA-3.0 Unported)

Remember the prisoners as if chained with them – those who are mistreated – since you yourselves are in the body also” (Heb. 13: 3).

Before being put to death as enemies of the state, the Apostles Peter and Paul are thought to have been confined to the infamous Mamertine Prison (then known as the Tullianum).

Located on the Capitoline Hill in Rome, the Mamertine contains a spring on the lower level.  Prisoners there were forced to stand, sit, and lie in the accumulated water.  The saints were not disheartened.  A tradition holds that Peter used the water for baptisms.

Sadly, our system of justice is still far from perfect.  We most often lament this when those who appear guilty to us evade punishment, for one reason or another. Few of us have much sympathy for convicted felons. The temptation is to wish them good riddance, and banish any further thought for their welfare.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, however, reports that conditions at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility (EMCF) are barbaric [1]. A federal lawsuit initiated in 2013 alleges that the prison is grossly filthy and violent in the extreme, with prisoners at “grave risk of death and loss of limbs” [2].

The EMCF is a for-profit facility meant to provide intensive therapy to psychiatric prisoners. Many such prisoners are kept in long-term solitary confinement, sometimes for months or even years. Others are housed in rat-infested cells without working toilets. Prisoners may go without showers for weeks.

Rapes and gang violence are common at the EMCF. Prisoners have been known to light fires to draw the attention of guards, in an emergency. A number claim to have been denied necessary medication, with permanent detrimental consequences including blindness.

Originally operated by GEO Group on behalf of the Mississippi Dept. of Corrections, management of the EMCF was transferred to Management and Training Corp. (MTC) without any appreciable improvement in conditions. Experts have characterized these as “intentional patient abandonment”, violating international human rights standards against torture.

Former Mississippi Prison Commissioner, Christopher Epps was charged with accepting nearly $1 million in bribes, in exchange for steering lucrative prison contracts to private companies like MTC. He pled guilty to corruption earlier this year.

It is inconvenient to consider these allegations, let alone the possibility they may be factual. The public wants justice over and done with, the prison door slammed shut. We are told that there are too many “loopholes” in the law already; that the system favors criminals over victims, as is.

And all that may be true. But a nagging little voice keeps repeating, “Remember the prisoners.” For, if we are truly Christian – not merely pounding our chests on some topic or other – we know that our own righteousness is as filthy rags before the Lord (Isa. 64: 6). And what we do for the least of these, we do for Him (Matt. 25: 40).

[1] SPLC Report, published by Southern Poverty Law Center, “Private Mississippi prison allowing inmates to suffer in ‘barbaric’ conditions,” Winter 2014, Vol. 44, No. 4.

[2] American Civil Liberties Union, Prisoners Rights, Dockery v. Epps, 9/26/14,

[3] The New York Times, “2 Former Mississippi Officials Plead Guilty in a Graft Case Involving Private Prisons” by Alan Blinder, 2/25/15,

This series will conclude next week with Imperfect Justice, Part 2 – At Large.


  1. Yes. I was appalled a short while ago when a prisoner here was beaten to death in his cell by other prisoners. This should never be able to happen

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