In 1843 a penitentiary in four city squares in central Jackson became Mississippi's first state prison; it is located where the Capitol of Mississippi currently resides. As a result of the U.S. Civil War, the Jackson prison was destroyed, and the state had no prison. Prisoners were leased to third parties, which held custody of the inmates. After December 31, 1894, prisoners sentenced by the State of Mississippi could no longer be hired or leased by third parties. After the convict leasing system ended, the State of Mississippi began to acquire property to build its own correctional facilities. The state bought the Rankin Farm in Rankin County, 12 miles (19 km) away from Jackson, in 1895. Afterwards the state purchased the Oakley Farm, located in Hinds County, 25 miles (40 km) from Jackson. The state government purchased land in Sunflower County in January 1901, leading to the establishment of the Parchman Farm (now Mississippi State Penitentiary).
The Department of Corrections opened in 1976 to oversee the existing Mississippi state prisons.
By 2011 MDOC operated below capacity due to methods used to reduce the prison population, such as increased use of house arrest and conditional medical release. As of 2011 the state prisons are over 2,000 spaces below capacity. With private prisons included, that is about 4,000 beds below capacity.
Before going to their assigned facilities and after their transfer from county jails, most prison inmates are sent to the Reception & Classification Center (R&C) in the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (CMCF) to be classified according to behavior level and assessed for treatment. The classification process takes around 30 days.
Most male inmates who are sentenced to MDOC by the courts or who are returned to MDOC as parole violators, probation violators, intensive supervision program (ISP) (house arrest) violators, earned release supervision (ERS) violators, and suspension violators are placed at R&C. All women inmates who are sentenced to MDOC by the courts or who are returned to MDOC as parole violators, probation violators, ISP violators, ERS violators, and suspension violators are placed in 1A or 2B at CMCF. Male death row inmates transferred from county jails immediately go to the Mississippi State Penitentiary, the location of the male death row.
Each prisoner receives a security classification. The classifications are:
As of September 1, 2008, the Mississippi Department of Corrections has 26,274 inmates in its custody. 17,677 (67.28%) are Black, 8,269 (31.47%) are White, 236 (.09%) are Hispanic, 43 (.16%) are Asian, 27 (.01%) are Native American, and 22 (.06%) have that data unavailable. Of the 23,692 male inmates, 16,366 (69.08%) are Black, 7,030 (29.67%) are White, 222 (.94%) are Hispanic, 35 (.15%) are Asian, 23 (.1%) are Native American, and 16 (.07%) have that data unavailable. Of the 2,582 female inmates, 1,311 (50.77%) are Black, 1,239 (47.99%) are White, 14 (.54%) are Hispanic, 8 (.31%) are Asian, 4 (.15%) are Native American, and 6 (.23%) have that data unavailable.
Men may have hair that is not more than 3 inches (76 mm) in length. Men may have beards and goatees up to .5 inches (13 mm) in length.
Most prisoner outfits are striped. As of 1997, green stripes indicate lower security prisoners, black stripes indicate prisoners with a level higher than the ones with green stripes, and red stripes indicate high security prisoners.
Reception and Classification Center inmates wear yellow jumpsuits. Condemned prisoners are required to wear red jumpsuits.
Since the establishment of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, 6 officers have died in the line of duty.
The New Jersey Department of Corrections, the state prison system of New Jersey, established the "Be Smart Choose Freedom" television advertisement campaign in 2005. The State of New Jersey produced 30-60 second public service announcements to warn state residents against going to prison. MDOC decided to start its own "Be Smart Choose Freedom" campaign and use the commercials that aired in New Jersey.
^"Fact Sheet." Mississippi Department of Corrections. 2/3. Updated on September 1, 2008. Retrieved on July 24, 2010.
^"Private Prisons." (Archive) Mississippi Department of Corrections. Updated October 18, 2012. Retrieved on October 23, 2012.
^"042.jpg." Mississippi Department of Corrections. Retrieved on September 18, 2010.
^"Walnut Grove." First Impressions. Mississippi State University, February 2008. 0 (3/21). Retrieved on August 14, 2010. "Looking at the MDA profile, the population growth is impressive (year 2000 – 488, year 2006 – 1,424). However, we learned that most of this population growth has been due to the location and annexation of the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility."