Imagine being a married father of three and suddenly being arrested for a murder you didn’t commit. You are held in jail in Clarksdale, Miss., for six years before you’re granted a trial, and the jury then acquits you. While you were locked away, your wife took your children and left the state, and you are now free but have nothing.
The very name itself is formal and almost innocuous: pre-trial detention. But it’s an unconscionable practice—one that has made me crazy ever since I returned to Mississippi 2001 and first co-founded a newspaper here in 2002. I soon learned that jails from the capital city region to rural areas across Mississippi lock up people only accused of a crime for many months, often multiple years, before they go to trial.
The worst part: Very few people care.
Most of pretrial detainees are poor and Black and can’t afford the bail. So although they are innocent-until-proved-guilty ostensibly and legally, the reality is they are routinely warehoused in disgusting facilities with poor security and too-often corrupt guards, and many end up killing themselves in jail, or getting killed, including right here in Hinds County.
Remember that Hinds is the home of a supposedly “radical” capital city due to supposed criminal-justice and jail reformers elected to key positions, but who bow to a political wave focused on maximum incarceration, even pre-trial. We hear a lot more about not having enough jail beds, than how to free up the ones we do have quickly and humanely.
The reality is tough but vital to face, and the reasons are systemic and varied, as reporter Kayode Crown has been reporting in a consistent string of the best criminal-justice journalism you’ve ever seen coming out of Mississippi, precisely because the work is so local and reported from the ground up with boots on the ground. Over my 20 years as a Mississippi editor, I’ve learned that the causes of this inhumane detention include greed, disorganization, apathy and a wide-held (and bipartisan) belief that the people locked up had it coming to them.
Remember: They are innocent without a trial or a plea (and some are likely innocent when they plead to get out of the conditions).
Plus, it’s terrible fiscal management: Our jails are perpetually at capacity because a bunch of grown-ups in powerful positions and of various parties can’t get together and figure out how to prosecute and go to trial quicker. Maybe they need better systems; maybe they need to fire the dead weight; probably both.
Meantime, while the jails are cesspools of violence waiting to happen, and detainees being groomed for bad behavior when they do get out, including gang initiations with guards watching as I described in a 2018 Jackson Free Press piece, many Jackson politicians create mindless squabbles over the supposed need to rent jail space to lock up low-level misdemeanor suspects even as smarter cities around the country are realizing they may be creating violence criminals by doing that—and reversing course.
Still, in Mississippi, there is an open belief (and not just among white people) that police need to round up young (Black) men for minor offenses and lock them up in jail indefinitely—as violence prevention. That is insane logic, and it’s unconscionable policy.
I tell you all this to, yes, vent once again: WHY DO SUPPOSEDLY DECENT HUMAN BEINGS ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN WITH TAXPAYER MONEY?
Kayode Crown: Opposite of a Parachute Reporter
I also am telling you this to announce that a new journalistic sheriff, so to speak, is on Mississippi criminal-justice beat to make sure that this problem, and related ones, stay front and center until solutions are engaged. No more closing of the eyes and then kicking the problem down the road, and media ignoring it.
Reporter Kayode Crown is determined to not allow that to happen, and as of Jan. 15, he is a full-time reporter at the Mississippi Free Press. Although he will devote much of his time to criminal-justice reporting from deep inside communities it affects the most, he has asked to do other reporting as well. That pleases me: Just read his detailed journalism on Jackson (and Mississippi) children ingesting huge amounts of lead (which medical science shows leads to criminal activity)—as well as potential solutions.
Lead poisoning of mostly children of color is another slice of Mississippi inhumanity allowed to continue due to adults turning their heads and pretending it will go away.
I hired Kayode, who was first a journalist in his native Nigeria, when I still was the editor of the Jackson Free Press as the city-county reporter. He quickly became the best reporter in that role I’ve ever hired, precisely because he constitutionally can’t stay out of the communities in Jackson other journalists routinely ignore, and he’s not just trying to spend all of his time on a handful of high-profile stories. He focuses hard daily and churns out story after story about inequities and conditions that affect Black people in our state far more often than white communities. And he follows up and doesn’t disappear chasing the next attention-grabbing story.
Several months ago, I hired him half-time at the Mississippi Free Press, and he shifted to part-time at the JFP. As of today, this journalistic machine is turning full focus on the kind of watchdog coverage that brings change, whether it’s an elderly Black couple in Jackson plagued with sewage smells or excerpts of Kayode’s work showing up in U.S. District Judge Carleton Reeves’ demand for immediate action for his jail-conditions exposé.
I’ve been watching these problems fester for 20 years in Hinds County, but never saw the Hinds County Board of Supervisors move toward real action until after Kayode’s stories. Maybe it’s coincidence.
Super-focused Kayode embeds solutions and comparative situations right into his stories, which is unusual here where coverage of these issues routinely has a breathless air of sensationalistic hopelessness. In Mississippi, local and parachute reporters love to cover the sexy beat of criminal justice, which can bring awards, but staying with the same story and digging into communities for causes and researching beyond the state for solutions? Not so much.
Kayode embodies the work ethic and forward-thinking service journalism Kimberly Griffin and I founded the MFP to do for Mississippi. He joins three full-time trusted Mississippi-born reporters—Ashton Pittman, Aliyah Veal and Nick Judin—and a slate of freelance journalists with the same reporting and community ethos: Do it for the people, and do it well.
Frankly, your support during our NewsMatch campaign made it possible to hire Kayode full-time now with other hires ahead (including a news editor and, as soon as possible, a systemic education reporter), and start a schedule of deserved raises for team members (we’ve had no turnover in almost two years since launch; only growth). We’re blessed that so many of you are investing in “upstream” journalism in Mississippi without paywalls or a romantic fixation on the powerful and their cyclical horse races. You are enabling a growing wave of dedicated journalists to delve into long-ignored corners and communities in our state—where our journalists want to go, or already live.
So thank you. We appreciate all of you more than you can know.
This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an essay for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and factcheck information to [email protected] We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints