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Here’s a start: Close Penitentiary at Parchman

State officials should close Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman and do it quickly.

After eight deaths in 22 days — maybe more, I have lost count — it is obvious the inmates are running the prison and have complete control over guards and other prison workers. Parchman should be closed until at least such time as a solution to the rampant violence and horrific conditions of the facility can be fully addressed, if such is even possible.

If the justice system is working as it should — and we have no reason to think it has not in the majority of cases — the prisoners in Parchman are there to be punished for serious crimes committed. However, Parchman’s inmates are human beings and while the inmates may not have treated their victims humanely, we live in a civilized society and inmates deserve to be treated thusly.

Before we get too down on our state’s elected officials for allowing things to deteriorate to their present level, the problems at Parchman are not unique to Mississippi. Our nation’s prison system largely is broken.

We warehouse prisoners and do little to rehabilitate. Black men are incarcerated at a rate five times greater than whites. That has much to do with generations of poverty, inadequate public education and opportunity.

Some facts:

* Mississippi had the third highest imprisonment rate in the country in 2016, which is the last year national data is available, according to the sentencingproject.org.

* One in 50 children in the U.S. has a parent who is incarcerated.

* In the nation, 2.2 million people are incarcerated.

* While blacks and whites report using drugs at similar rates, the imprisonment rate among blacks for drug charges is six times that of whites.

It’s all a vicious cycle. The war on drugs, which sends many to prison for minor drug use, has clogged our state’s jails and prisons, and no end is in sight.

Generations of drug use and poverty and underfunded public education have left many young men and women feeling hopeless and without any perceived opportunity other than to sell drugs and seek the organization of gangs, who run much of the illegal drug trafficking, to do so.

That is why is it so critical for communities like ours to support our public schools, regardless of where your children and grandchildren go to school. We must make certain our children learn to read early and have mastered reading by the time they enter the third grade. If students are not reading well by the third grade, reputable experts say it is too late, that students will never be able to make up being that far behind.

We must bring back the opportunities offered in vocational and technical education, and I am proud to say the Natchez Public Schools is moving in that way under the direction of Cleveland Moore, director of the Fallin Career and Technology Center. Moore is working with several Natchez manufacturers and businesses to tailor curriculum to train employees with the skills they will need to go to work and earn a decent, honorable living.

I am happy to report the Natchez Public School District is at work organizing a group of residents who are interested in volunteering and working with students of a variety of ages and in a variety of ways, to provide support for teachers who need it and students who need some extra help.

We must nurture our students and provide to them that which is not being provided at home.

That’s the best investment we can make for the long-term future of our community. Providing a good education and steering our students toward opportunities and helping them see a future greater than any they can imagine is how we are going to solve the problems like our state is facing now at Parchman.

It is not going to happen overnight, but it will happen and we need to get started.

Jan Griffey is general manager of The Natchez Democrat. You may reach her at 601-445-3627 or jan.griffey@natchezdemocrat.com.