U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves has appointed Wendell M. France, Sr., as the receiver for the Hinds County Raymond Detention Center. He starts work tomorrow, Nov. 1, 2022, but will not take over operational control until Jan. 1, 2023, the judge said in an order today. “The Receiver shall be in day-to-day charge of RDC operations,” Reeves wrote.
Hinds County Board of Supervisors President Credell Calhoun said the board will confer with its legal team on what to do next. “We will be getting with them tomorrow. It’s an issue for our legal department at this time,” he told the Mississippi Free Press on Monday after the reporter informed him of the order.
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 in July 2022 and “determined that a Receiver was warranted” to remedy “ongoing unconstitutional conditions” at the facility and ordered the facility to go under receivership. “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,” he stated at the time.
In 2021, more than five people died at the Hinds County Detention Center, court documents show, including 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.
After the July order, the judge received four suggestions of potential receivers, three from the U.S. Department of Justice and one from Hinds County. Reeves noted that he determined that France was the most suited for the position after interviewing two Department of Justice nominees. One withdrew from consideration.
The judge also decided that the county’s choice, Frank Shaw, was not the most appropriate fit because “his background was in prison operations” and not in jail operations. Those in the facility are innocent of the charges until proven guilty in court.
A member of the National Institute of Corrections and the American Correctional Association and a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, France now serves as an adjunct professor at Bowie State University and Coppin University, both in Maryland. “France’s diverse experience in corrections and criminal justice system leadership equip him with the tools to ensure RDC’s compliance,” Reeves said.
France began his law-enforcement career in 1970 with the Baltimore Police Department. He retired as a commanding officer of the Eastern District in 1997 before serving as “Assistant Warden at the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center to Commissioner of the Pretrial Detention and Services Division, and Deputy Secretary of the State of Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS),” the judge noted in his order released today.
“On November 1, 2022, France shall begin his transition into the receivership by cultivating relationships with County officials and developing a draft Plan of Action to achieve constitutional conditions of compliance with the Court’s Orders,” Judge Reeves continued. “To effectuate a smooth transition, the Receiver’s operational control over RDC shall not take effect until January 1, 2023.”
In a separately released outline of his role, Reeves said France will “have the power to hire, fire, suspend, supervise, promote, transfer, discipline, and take all other personnel actions regarding employees or contract employees who perform services related to the operation of RDC,” the judge wrote.
“Because time is of the essence, and in order to begin operations immediately, Defendants shall, within 60 days of the date of this Order, establish an initial operating fund with the Court in an amount to be agreed upon by the parties,” the judge wrote in the 13-page document outlining the receiver’s powers and responsibilities. “The Receiver shall submit monthly requests to the Court for payment from this fund.”
In this position, France will receive $16,000 per month “[b]ased on his extensive experience,” Reeves said.