Gates v. CollierMississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, then known as Parchman Farm, is also known for the part it played in the United States Civil Rights Movement. In the spring of 1961, Freedom Riders came to the South to test the desegregation of public facilities. By the end of June, 163 Freedom Riders had been convicted in Jackson, Mississippi. Many were jailed in Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. Mississippi employed the trusty system, a hierarchical order of inmates that used some inmates to control and enforce punishment of other inmates.
In 1970 Civil Rights lawyer Roy Haber began taking statements from inmates, which eventually totalled fifty pages of details of murders, rapes, beatings and other abuses suffered by the inmates from 1969 to 1971 at Mississippi State Penitentiary. In a landmark case known as Gates v. Collier (1972) four inmates represented by Haber sued the superintendent of Parchman Farm for violating their rights under the United States Constitution. Federal Judge William C. Keady found in favor of the inmates, writing that Parchman Farm violated the civil rights of the inmates by inflicting cruel and unusual punishment. He ordered an immediate end to all unconstitutional conditions and practices. Racial segregation of inmates was abolished. And the trustee system, which allow certain inmates to have power and control over others, was also abolished.
The prison was renovated in 1972 after the scathing ruling by Judge Keady in which he wrote that the prison was an affront to "modern standards of decency." Among other reforms, the accommodations were made fit for human habitation and the system of "trusties" (in which lifers were armed with rifles and set to guard other inmates) was abolished.
In integrated correctional facilities in northern and western states, blacks represented a disproportionate amount of the prisoners and were often treated as second class citizens at the hands of white correctional officers. Blacks also represented a disproportionate number of death row inmates. Eldridge Cleaver's book Soul on Ice was written from his experiences in the California correctional system and further fueled black militancy.