Two inmates at a maximum-security prison in Mississippi have died after suffering injuries from a "blunt force beating," officials said Tuesday, bringing the death toll across the state's prison system to at least seven since the beginning of the year.
The deaths come after another inmate at the same facility — Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman — apparently died by suicide in his cell Sunday, Sunflower County Coroner Heather Burton said in a statement.
The increased scrutiny has spurred Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican who took office last week, to pledge that his administration would provide transparency amid the fraught situation.
"There is much more to be done here," he tweeted Tuesday.
The state Corrections Department did not immediately provide details of the latest deaths, but it tweeted that they stemmed from an "isolated incident," not part of the recent wave of retaliatory, gang-related killings. The gang violence led to a lockdown of prisons across the state this month.
Mississippi State Penitentiary, the state's only maximum-security prison for men, with more than 3,500 inmate beds, has been the focus of attention given its history of inmate abuses, racial segregation and corruption.
One of this week's victims was identified as Timothy Hudspeth, who was serving 10 years for possession of a firearm by a felon. The other inmate was not being named until relatives could be notified.
"The safety of staff and prisoners at Parchman is our immediate priority, and we are working hard to restore and maintain order," interim Commissioner Tommy Taylor said in a statement, adding: "The environment that makes such violence possible must be addressed quickly, and we are committed to making changes to do so."
But experts have said the string of deaths underscores the festering problems within the prison system in Mississippi, which has one of the nation's highest incarceration rates.
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The Corrections Department also faces a new lawsuit after the rap mogul Jay-Z filed a federal complaint against the agency and the warden of the state penitentiary last week, saying the recent deaths "are a direct result of Mississippi's utter disregard for the people it has incarcerated and their constitutional rights."
The department said it does not comment on pending litigation.