Behind the walls at East Mississippi Correctional Facility
Lauderdale County is home to more than 1200 inmates at East Mississippi Correctional Facility in Lost Gap. It's the primary facility in the state to treat offenders with special mental needs.
There have been complaints over the years about inmate treatment and prison conditions. The state had to cut ties with GEO Group who first oversaw operations when it was built 18 years ago. Now it's under different managements. For the first time WTOK cameras were allowed in the prison to see what's going on there.
It's located off highway I-20 east at the Lost Gap Exit.
"I think a lot of people in Lauderdale County don't realize we have a regional prison. You can't see it from the interstate, you have to be looking for it or live out that way to know where it is," said District 5 Supervisor, Kyle Rutledge.
Past the barbwire, through a secured fence, and beyond a secured gate there's a community of male offenders serving time at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility. It's designed to contain 1500 inmates but is home to 1251.
"It is like, its own little city. We have things going on throughout the day where inmates can purchase things to have in their cell. We have education programs going on, we have recreations programs, we have our own in house medical unit for inmates,” said Warden Frank Shaw.
East Mississippi Correctional Facility opened in 1999 ran by GEO Group under contract with the Mississippi Department of Corrections. The company received bad review on inmate treatment and prison conditions. It eventually lost its contract agreement to Management and Training Corporation, who has run it since 2012.
" We had to go through some transition to get the facility where it needed to be. And we are still working on that quite honestly," said Shaw.
Its surrounded by timber the and stands alone on archers of land. It's located about two and a half miles from the closest residential area. Inmates convicted of crimes like murder, aggravated armed robbery and rape are serving time.
"There is always the potential of an inmate out smarting the system and escaping,' said Sheriff Billie Sollie.
That's only happened once in the facility. In 2005 under the previous operators, three violent inmates escaped and were captured a few days later.
EMCF is the primary facility in the state for treating inmates with mental illness and according to the Mississippi Department of Corrections mission statement, rehabbing inmates is a top priority.
“I think that is very important in an inmate’s life in terms of while he is incarcerated because it can change that person to be someone they were before going into the system. And a completely changed life when he goes out," said Shaw.