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Justice Department will investigate four Mississippi prisons after inmates describe dangerous conditions

The Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman is one of the facilities that will be investigated.

By Nicole Chavez and Allison Flexner, CNN

The Justice Department is launching an investigation into the conditions of several Mississippi prisons following a series of inmate deaths, the agency announced Wednesday.

The department's Civil Rights Division will focus on the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman, the South Mississippi Correctional Institution, the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility and the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility.

"The investigation will focus on whether the Mississippi Department of Corrections adequately protects prisoners from physical harm at the hands of other prisoners at the four prisons, as well as whether there is adequate suicide prevention, including adequate mental health care and appropriate use of isolation, at Parchman," the Justice Department said in a statement.

Nine inmates have died at Parchman in a little more than a month, most of which as a result of either violence or suicide. As of January 17, Parchman held 2,815 of the state's more than 19,000 prisoners.

The Mississippi Department of Corrections said it had no comment on the investigation.

Gov. Tate Reeves announced during his first State of the State address that he will shutter Parchman's Unit 29 -- his words coming weeks after prison officials said they'd relocated 375 violent prisoners and were seeking cells for 625 more Unit 29 inmates.

Inmates inside the state prisons have described inhumane and dangerous conditions that have them fearing for their lives, including overflowing raw sewage covering their cell floors, lack of access to showers for weeks and deadly gang violence.

CNN spoke with several Mississippi inmates, all on the condition of anonymity because they fear retaliation. They paint a picture of a chaotic, violent place where little value is placed on life.

They describe inhumane conditions and abject squalor and say the prisons are overrun with gangs -- both inside and outside the cells.

A recent lawsuit filed on behalf of more than two dozen inmates is also targeting the conditions of state prisons. In the filing, inmates asked for an emergency protective order to allow an independent agency to take over running the day-to-day operations of the prison.