U.S. Southern District of Mississippi Judge Carlton Reeves today issued an order to relieve Hinds County leadership of the control of Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond and place it under a yet-to-be-determined receiver to oversee the beleaguered and dangerous facility. He stated in his sternly worded decision that he had considered detaining county officials due to the dangerous conditions at the jail.
In the document today, Judge Reeves pushed back on county officials pushing for a new jail to solve the problem, saying detainees would likely “just dismantle that facility, too” if the same “inadequate supervision and staffing” was just transferred to a new jail.
The court had found Hinds County in contempt twice—in November 2021 and February 2022— for not complying with the 2016 consent decree it reached with the U.S. Department of Justice and the subsequent 2020 stipulated order streamlining reform demands.
“We can’t wait for continued destruction of the facilities,” Judge Reeves wrote Friday, July 29, 2022. “We can’t wait for the proliferation of more contraband. We can’t wait for another death. The time to act is now. There is no choice, unfortunately.”
The Mississippi Free Press reached out to the Hinds County Sheriff’s office and Hinds County Board of Supervisors President Credell Calhoun today, but they did not return the calls. Lawyers from Phelps Dunbar, LLP, who represented the county, also did not return calls or emails asking for reaction to the ruling.
“Within 14 days of this Order (by August 12, 2022), the parties shall submit to the Court proposed orders that outline the proposed powers and duties of the Receiver,” Reeves wrote in the order. “In the absence of consensus, the Court will consider the submissions of each party and devise its own list of the Receiver’s duties.”
‘Persistent Shortcomings in Staffing and Supervision’
Judge Reeves described the conditions at the Raymond Detention Center as extremely dangerous without staff trained properly to mitigate the risks. “Persistent shortcomings in staffing and supervision embolden gangs and encourage the prevalent circulation of contraband, including narcotics and weapons within RDC,” the judge wrote in the order. “Jail staff continue to receive inadequate training regarding use of force, such as the use of tasers.”
“Today, staffing is at an all-time low,” he added. “As recounted by Monitor Elizabeth Simpson during the July 19, 2022, mitigation hearing, the County currently employs 175 staff for the jail system, only 108 of whom work at RDC.” RDC refers to the main Hinds County Detention Center facility in Raymond, Miss., Hinds County’s second county seat in addition to Jackson.
Simpson had told the court that the jail would require 248 staff members to function, with the court noting that the detainees have increased from 500 in 2021 to about 700 now.
Hinds County Sheriff Tyree Jones addressed the press on April 14, 2022, after Judge Reeves streamlined the 2016 federal consent decree the day before as part of the ongoing legal face-off between the U.S. Department of Justice and the county. He touted an effort to recruit more staff.
“[W]e’ve also been working on a step plan and other things that we believe that we can execute to be able to attract more staff and have more staff that wants to come and work for the Hinds County detention services and our facility and to safeguard our detainees and our facilities as well,” Sheriff Jones said then.
“And I look forward to continuing to be in a planning phase, be able to hit some of the projects that we have again, to not only make the detention center safer for the detainees but to make it safer for the men and women that operate out of our detention facilities on a day to day basis as well.”
“As you all know, that was a salary issue that we face regarding our staff and regarding our staffing issues where we were trying to recruit more staff,” he added. “There has been another pay raise for our detention staff.”
Low Staffing ‘Leads to Perilous Situations’
The judge today commented on recent staff-retention measures like paying detention staff via biweekly direct deposit and a staff-retention rewards program. “The issue is that it has taken over six years to implement these changes, and so far none of them have borne fruit,” the judge wrote. “And as Hinds County Administrator Kenny Wayne Jones testified during the mitigation hearing (on July 19, 2022), the projected opening of a new Misdemeanor Jail next month will likely exacerbate low staffing numbers at RDC.”
“Deficiencies in supervision and staff lead to a stunning array of assaults, as well as death,” the judge added.
In 2021, more than five people died at the Hinds County Detention Center, the court documents show, including of 41-year-old Michael Richardson, who was arrested on Oct. 9, 2021, for possession of a firearm as a convicted felon, but died 10 days later when fellow inmates repeatedly hit him on the head.
In an interview with the Mississippi Free Press in January, Richardson’s son Malik Richardson said, “My father was not perfect by any means, and neither was his past, but he did not deserve what happened to him.”
In his ruling today, Judge Reeves highlights the compounding impact of low staffing, including “forcing workers to hold multiple posts and skip scheduled surveillance rounds,” he wrote. “It also leads to perilous situations, such as one guard manning the control center for an entire housing pod on his own, and the guards stating that they are afraid to work and will not report to RDC if assigned to certain units or pods.”
Judge Considered Putting Hinds Officials in Jail
Judge Reeves wrote the court has considered other sanctions instead of receiverships and has compared the relative impact. He mentioned possible financial sanctions but concluded that it was an inappropriate response in the case of Hinds County since it has “reportedly spent millions of dollars trying to fix RDC, to no avail.”
Testimonies from Mississippi Free Press interviews indicated that the facility has been faulty since its opening in 1994, with doors not closing and other structural deficiencies and staffing and organizational issues.
Former Hinds County Deputy Richard Spooner, a detention officer at the Hinds County Detention Center in 1994, told the Mississippi Free Press in October 2022 that “there were several things that went wrong with the jail.”.
“You know, it opened up in (1994),” Spooner added. “It was supposed actually to open up before then, but when they built the jail, they forgot to put drains in the showers. And I’m not talking about the draining caps; I’m talking about the pipes.”
“So they had to tear up all the showers and put the pipes in. That’s just an example of how badly the jail was constructed.”
Hinds County Board of Supervisors President Credell Calhoun told the Mississippi Free Press in November 2021 that the facility itself was problematic, making it difficult for staff members to do their jobs.
“The main issue with the jail is the jail really wasn’t built to spec when it was constructed, and they (U.S. Department of Justice) want us to have detention officers watching everything that the detainees are doing, when they’re sleeping, when they’re not sleeping, whatever; they want somebody watching them,” the board president said. “And that jail, the facility, was not built to accomplish that in the beginning, and whoever built it, the construction person that built that facility didn’t know how to build a jail, in my opinion.”
Judge Reeves wrote in his decision today that he also considered outright closing the Raymond jail but noted that is an even more drastic remedy than receivership.
“Another option is to require members of the Board and the Sheriff to spend one week or more detained in RDC,” the judge added. “Experiencing life at the jail firsthand would surely motivate the county’s leaders to correct unconstitutional conditions therein.”
“But this also seems an extreme remedy—at least, at present.”
Reeves, however, added in a footnote that a week might not be enough to impress on the County’s leadership what detainees face because detainees at the Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond spend “approximately double the national average.” Judge Reeves referenced a Bureau of Justice Statisticians 2021 report which noted that the national average in 2020 was 28 days in detention.
Many pretrial detainees have been locked inside the Hinds detention facilities for many months and even years before ever going to trial, due to systemic backlogs throughout the Hinds County judicial system. Still, local elected officials often call for more misdemeanor jail beds as a way to keep potential criminals off the streets, framing it as crime prevention, despite un-convicted detainees’ constitutional right to a speedy trial.
No Constitutional Conditions for RDC Yet
In another interview in November 2021, Credell Calhoun emphasized that his plan for Hinds County to come from under the consent decree was to build a new facility, rather than addressing the practices inside the facility and the length of pre-trial detention many faces inside a facility where many doors do not lock for safety.
“We started looking at figuring out how to come out from under the consent decree, and the one thing that we figured at the beginning (is that) there is no way to bring that facility into compliance,” he said. “We looked at some jails, (and) we talked to the contractor that did the jail up in Coahoma (County).”
“We went up and looked at it, and we came to the conclusion that that’s the type of facility that we wanted to build here in Hinds County,” Calhoun added.
Judge Reeves referenced that plan in the Friday order. “The County continued to allude to construction of the new jail as an opportunity for a fresh start,” he said. “But, as Mr. (David M.) Parish (a member of the court-appointed monitoring team for the jail) testified during the July 19 proceeding, if the County continued to provide inadequate supervision and staffing, detainees will just dismantle that facility, too.”
“And the opening of a new jail several years into the future does not establish constitutional conditions for those detained at RDC now,” Reeves added. “Moreover, the County’s responsibility to provide constitutional detention facilities for its detainees is not dissipated, suspended or placed in abeyance while the new facility is being constructed.”
Reeves, in January 2022, asked the parties to submit names of potential receivers. The Department of Justice submitted three, while the county submitted one. The judge wrote in his decision that he will choose one of the three from the federal government because the county’s choice “is wholly unqualified for the role.”
Read Kayode Crown’s full award-winning coverage of the Hinds County Detention Center conditions and control saga.