‘It’s Filthy; Lights Don’t Work’: Judge Declares Hinds County Inmates Live in Unsafe Conditions

U.S. Southern District of Mississippi Judge Carlton Reeves wrote his second contempt order against Hinds County leadership on the A-Pod of the 596-bed facility, which opened in 1994. Photo by Megan Bean / Mississippi State University

A Hinds County Detention Center inmate sustained stabbing wounds in July 2021 and again in December 2021. Still, prison officials continued to return him to the same housing unit, U.S. Southern District of Mississippi Judge Carlton Reeves revealed in his contempt order on March 23, 2022. This is his second order filed against the county for its running of the jail.

“On July 5, 2021, in A-Pod, Unit 1, a detainee was stabbed,” the judge wrote. “The event resulted in a rapid notification and required medical transport, which both indicate that it was likely serious in nature.” The judge did not name the detainee.

“On December 1, 2021, the same detainee, in the same housing unit, was stabbed again,” Reeves added about Hinds County’s main jail in Raymond.The corresponding incident report reflects that after this incident, the detainee was transported to medical, and then returned to the same housing unit.”

Most of those incarcerated at the Raymond Detention Center have not faced trial for their accusations. Many cannot afford to make bail.

With information from a two-week evidentiary hearing in February 2022 and the November 2021 report of the court-appointed monitor Elizabeth Simpson, Reeves concluded that the accurate scale of the violence at Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond is unknown.

“Even so, in July 13 assaults were reported at RDC; in September, 12 assaults, and October through the 26th, 10 were reported,” the court monitor wrote.

The Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond has been under a federal consent decree since 2016. Photo by Kayode Crown

‘A-Pod is a Disaster’

David Parrish is part of the court-appointed monitoring team, and he is in charge of correctional operations for the group. He was a witness at the February evidentiary hearing and described the condition of the A-Pod as terrible.

“A-Pod is a disaster. It’s filthy; lights don’t work; locks don’t work; doors can’t be secured; cells don’t have lights inside them,” Reeves quoted Parrish in the second order of contempt.

Parrish, not mincing words, continued: “Inmates, since they can’t even close the doors, end up hanging blankets down in front of them to have make-shift privacy to their cells. Showers don’t work. Everything in the place is torn up. It’s just a very bad mess. There’s no fire extinguishers inside, of course, because the inmates control that place. There are no officers who work inside the housing units in Alpha. There are no fire hoses. There are not even fire hoses out in the corridors, around the control room in Alpha. That area is ill equipped across the board.”

Hinds County Sheriff Tyree Jones, in a press conference on April 14, 2022, told reporters that there have been several improvements to the facility since 2020, except for the A-Pod. Jones said that he told the court in February that A-Pod was unsafe.

“As you all know, a C-Pod was fully renovated, locks on the doors were replaced, not only in C-Pod, we did the same thing in B-Pod as well,” he said. “So as it relates to, we have three pods, we have A, B and C, and there’s no secrets as I testified in federal court that A-Pod is unsafe, but we are currently working on a project to be able to address the safety issue with A-Pod as well, but B-Pod and C-Pod have been renovated.”

A smiling bearded man in sunglasses, wearing a sheriff uniform
Hinds County Sheriff Tyree Jones acknowledged that the A-Pod at the Raymond Detention Center is unsafe. Photo by Kayode Crown

“The physical plant itself has been changed. There have been measures put in place where we can go to a direct supervision once we are at a staffing level or fully staffed at that particular time as well.”

In the A-Pod, Judge Reeves explained that because the cell doors don’t lock, inmates roam as they please, presenting a danger to both inmates and staff.

“It is true that some of the cell doors have been repaired in recent years. As it stands, however, the recent hearing showed that the doors remain in an unacceptable state of disrepair in A-Pod,” the judge wrote in March.

A man in a "Just Do It" tshrit and dark jacket stands on the sidewalk
In the early hours of Oct. 18, 2021, Hinds County Detention Center inmates repeatedly hit Michael Richardson and stomped on his head. He died as a consequence. Photo courtesy Malik Richardson

Michael Richardson, 41, died at the A-Pod in October 2021. In the early hours of Oct. 18, 2021, inmates repeatedly hit him and stomped on his head. He laid unmoving for eight hours until correctional workers discovered his body.

‘Opened, Un-renovated and Not Under Direct Supervision’

Judge Reeves wrote last month that the county violated the 2016 consent decree and the 2020 stipulated order derived from it by deciding to keep the A-Pod “opened, un-renovated, and not under direct supervision.”

The judge, quoting from the transcripts of the evidentiary hearing, wrote: “The detainees in A-Pod have established ‘gang committees’ or ‘inmate committees’ that ‘essentially run the unit and … decide if there’s someone on the unit that they don’t want on the unit.”

“The committees coordinate attacks on unwelcome detainees (i.e., ‘they will harass, steal from, assault that inmate’) until the detainee requests to be moved.”

The judge wrote that staff refused shifts in the A-Pod because of fear of violence. “Because officers have delegated some of their duties to detainees themselves, such as meal distribution, the (inmate) committees withhold meals from some detainees,” he explained.

“These behaviors are enabled by the County’s decision to use ‘gang pods,’ or grouping detainees in housing units based on their gang affiliation,” he added. “The violence is not exclusive to A-Pod—but based on the assaults that are actually reported by staff, many of these assaults occur in A-Pod.”

The February hearing revealed about 20 inmate-on-inmate assaults per month at the detention center and about 77 reported assaults between October 2021 and January 2022.

Hinds County Sheriff’s Office Quality Assurance Coordinator Priscilla Dawson said she was not comfortable during her last visit to the Raymond Detention Center. Photo courtesy Priscilla Dawson

During the evidentiary hearing, Parrish said, “On Monday, the first day of my most recent site inspection, when we went into Alpha Pod, there was one officer working in the whole pod in the control room.”

“There were no officers on the floor for all four housing units. None.”

Hinds County Sheriff’s Office Quality Assurance Coordinator Priscilla Dawson experienced the A-Pod firsthand and shared it during the evidentiary hearing. “After visiting that area, talking about A-Pod Unit 1, it was clear why some female staff were apprehensive about entering the unit,” Dawson told the court. “This was the only unit I did not enter because I did not feel comfortable doing so even though I had male staff accompanying me.”

“A few of the detainees made lewd and crude remarks and generally acted out. My visit to this unit ended abruptly.”

The judge said that the court heard in February 2022 that the A-Pod had only a few working lights.

“The detainees spend most of their time in the dark, both in their cells and in the dayroom. Officers must use flashlights to complete well-being checks,” he wrote.

In Parrish’s testimony at the evidentiary hearing that Reeves quoted, he explained the importance of the light to gain insight into what goes on in the cells.

“There could be contraband. There could be fights. Somebody could be injured, could be ill, could be overdosing. So, yes, you need to see what’s in the well-being checks, you need to be able to see the individual,” he said.

 

 

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