Inmates in Mississippi's prison system can face violent prison guards, unsanitary living conditions, and threats from prison gangs, according to federal reports. And now, adding insult to injury, allegations of inmate identity theft have been raised at two prisons near Jackson, the state's capital, in the past week.
A corrections officer at the Hinds County Adult Detention Center, in Raymond, allegedly stole a list of prisoners' social security numbers and used them to receive false tax refunds, according to an indictment unsealed last week by the U.S. Attorney in the Western District of Louisiana.
The officer, Shannon Brumfield, allegedly stole the names and Social Security Numbers of 11 inmates from the prison's computer system and used them to file false tax returns in 2011 and 2012. She and others then collected tax refunds from post office boxes in Tallulah, Louisiana.
Brumfield is charged with 11 counts of mail fraud and 10 counts of aggravated identity theft, as well as one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. If convicted, she would face at least 20 years in prison.
Inmates around the country are especially at risk of identity theft. In 2014, corrections officers in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia were sentenced to prison for stealing prisoners' identities, The Wall Street Journal reports. And Mississippi's corrections department is investigating another identity theft scam at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, Commissioner Marshall Fisher told The Clarion-Ledger.
The damage to credit reports caused by identity theft can be a major obstacle when inmates re-enter society, making it harder for them to find employment, housing, or get credit.
"Individuals who are incarcerated for a number of years often have a clean credit file," according to a report from the St. Louis Fed. "As with children, these people typically do not regularly check their credit activity, making them easy targets for identity thieves."
Some jails barely protect the identities of their inmates: the Alabama Department of Corrections had no security on their computer system, the lawyer for one accused fraudster told the WSJ.
“Any DOC employee could walk up to any terminal," he said. "There were no individual logins.”
Identity theft is only the latest on a long list of injustices suffered by inmates in Mississippi's jails. A Justice Department review late last month found that Hinds and another of the state's other prisons routinely violate inmates' constitutional rights, with guards practicing unnecessary violence and being unable to control gangs—some inmates are not released on time, according to the report. One Hinds inmate was kept for three weeks in a cell without any plumbing, the New York Times reported.
Read the full indictment of Shannon Brumfield below:
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.