The lights have been on at a Miss. jail 24/7 for months. Now inmates are suing

The lights have been stuck on since as early as Nov. 25 because of a malfunction in the system that controls them

Margaret Baker
The Sun Herald

GULFPORT, Miss. — Some prisoners at the Jackson County jail say they are sleep-deprived because of a malfunction in the light system that is keeping the lights on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The lights have been stuck on since as early as Nov. 25 because of a malfunction in the system that controls the lights in the jail.

"It's the lights in the cells," said jail Capt. Tyrone Nelson. "They are all run by a computer board, and we can't turn them off.

"It's not as simple as an on-off switch. A control board that controls all the lights burned out. It's like the brain of a car — if that goes out, nothing works."

Four inmates are so fed up with lighting situation that they have filed lawsuits in federal court alleging their civil rights are being violated because they are being subjected to substandard conditions leading to sleep deprivation.

They filed the lawsuits in federal court in Gulfport against Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell, Lt. Mitchell McMillian, Nelson, and Jackson County. The prisoners are asking for unspecified monetary damages.

Each of the inmates said they first filed a grievance at the jail kiosk, but were told by McMillian that the jail staff was waiting on parts to fix the problem.

The prisoners are asking for unspecified damages.

Nelson said when a malfunction in the control board handling the lights, the system is set up for the lights to automatically shift on as a safety measure.

The jail staff are unable to fix the problem, Nelson said, and are at the mercy of a company they are waiting on to come out and make the necessary repairs.

"The lights in the cells are on, but it's not that bright," Nelson said. "It's not to the point like its a bright flashing light that's keeping them up and causing discomfort. But we've done our part and we are just waiting on this company to fix the problem. We are really at their mercy."

Nelson didn't know the full name of the company, but said the staff calls it Douglas.

Sheriff Ezell said there is really nothing more his staff can do other than to wait on the company to rectify the problem.

The prisoners who filed the lawsuits are Kristopher Paul Barnes, 42, held since Jan. 14 on a probation violation; Justin Matthew Guynn, 31, held since Oct. 31 on a probation violation and charge of possession of methamphetamines; Joseph Clifton Morrell III, 44, held since Jan. 2 on a probation violation, drug charge and failure to appear charges; and Phillip Brandon Reeves, 33, held since Feb. 9 on a probation violation and home invasion charge.

The jail staff is hoping the company that is supposed to be making the repairs will see the news about the lighting mishap and speed up efforts to fix the problem.

Prisoners in other parts of the country have previously sued over 24-hour prison cell lighting, including in Sacramento and northern California.

(c)2021 The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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