Mississippi Lullaby: Prison Town Lament

The town of Walnut Grove, Mississippi, and its notorious private youth prison now have their own ballad:

“Mississippi Lullaby Blues,” released today by musician Laura Herscovitch and the Justice Policy Institute.

A cartoon video accompanying the song portrays an impoverished, job-starved town saved by a devilish, top-hat-wearing duck, who sells the city fathers on the economic benefits of a youth prison. Soon the jobless are guards and kids fighting at school are behind bars.

“It’s a perfect factory for things no one needs,” Herscovitch sings. “But people here have mouths to feed.”

Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, a for-profit detention center surrounded by razor wire near the forests and farms of central Mississippi, was known for staff shortages, mismanagement and lax oversight, which turned it into a cauldron of violence where female employees had sex with inmates, pitted them against each other, gave them weapons and joined their gangs, Bloomberg News reported in July.

“It was like a jungle,” said Craig Kincaid, 24, a former inmate. “It was an awful place to go when you’re trying to get your life together.”

Sold as an economic development opportunity to a town that had lost its largest employer, the prison grew from 500 inmates to nearly three times that under the operation of Cornell Companies and later the Geo Group of Boca Raton, Florida, which acquired Cornell. Geo left the state in mid-2012, after a scathing U.S. Justice Department report on the prison.

The detention center now houses only adults, under the management of another private corrections company, Management and Training Corp., of Centerville, Utah.

It remains the town’s largest employer and provides one quarter of Walnut Grove’s budget.

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