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County has three weeks to convince federal judge not to take over Raymond jail

U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves
U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves
Published: Nov. 24, 2021 at 1:47 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Hinds County has 21 days to tell a federal judge why it should not be held in civil contempt and why its jail should not be taken over.

Tuesday, while candidates were making their final push to become the next Hinds County Sheriff, U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves issued an order saying that more than five years after the jail was put under a federal consent decree, the county has failed to end the “unconstitutional conditions” there.

Reeves said because of those failures, the county has three weeks to tell him why he should not put the jail under receivership, or federal control.

Meanwhile, the judge points out that Kathryn Bryan, who was appointed jail administrator this summer, submitted her letter of resignation on November 10. According to court records, Bryan said that there was a “distinct lack of support” and “relayed in detail a recent directive from the Interim Sheriff that she found ‘reckless and dangerous.’”

Jail Administrator Kathryn Bryan
Jail Administrator Kathryn Bryan(WLBT)

Court records did not spell out that directive. Hinds County Board Attorney Tony Gaylor would not provide a copy of the letter when asked.

“It is now 2021. Much has changed in the world, the United States, the state of Mississippi, and even in Hinds County. Not so for the RDC,” Reeves wrote. “The unconstitutional conditions have not been remediated – they have no end in sight, in fact. And the county’s failure to remedy the conditions has caused ‘needless suffering and death.’ including six deaths so far this year.”

Court records report six deaths at the Raymond Detention Center this year, including the most recent, when an inmate was beaten to death in the jail’s A-Pod.

Deaths include:

“Violence at RDC is not new. The problem is its recent escalation with no end in sight,” Reeves wrote. “The loss of life cannot continue.”

Reeves went on to outline other issues reported by the court monitors.

Monitors were put in place as part of the county’s consent decree to ensure the county complied with decree mandates. The team reports back to the court quarterly.

Reeves pointed to a litany of concerns, including severe staffing shortages, inadequate medical and mental health care for detainees, the presence of drugs and contraband, cell doors that do not lock, and the jails’ “over-reliance on chemical spray” to coerce inmate compliance.

RDC currently has 229 employees, about 90 fewer than it needs to be fully staffed, court records indicate. And due to staffing challenges, he said that detainees run parts of the jail.

“The first monitoring report from 2017 was crystal clear: the lack of staffing ‘has left prisoners in charge, which resulted in riots, prisoner deaths and major structural damage to the facility,’” he wrote. “The consequences of detainee control were on full display during three riots in 2019.”

According to court records, “prisoners threatened to stab officers with shanks and took their keys. At some point, officers barricaded themselves into a control room for their safety – ceding control of the pod until help arrived.”

The record at the time indicated that “officers planned to retreat into the control room’s bathroom should the prisoners breach the control room door.”

Meanwhile, one report indicated that detainees had developed their own “committee system in which they choose who is accepted into their unit,” and that “A-Pod was described as ‘unmanageable.’”

Anthony Thomas, who is currently being held on a 2012 marijuana charge, said he had to sleep in the shower because his cellmate would not let him sleep in the cell with him.

Reeves pointed out another troubling instance, where officers of both C-Pod and A-Pod had left the control rooms unattended. “Detainees could have ‘easily taken over the control rooms and released the entire inmate population at RDC,’” he wrote.

To help combat that problem, the county raised detention officer pay twice in the last two years. The most recent pay raise of 5 percent was implemented at the behest of outgoing interim Sheriff Marshand Crisler.

Even with that, some jail staffers staged a walkout this month to cite conditions at the facility.

Structural problems are also present. There are no fire alarm systems or sprinkler systems in the inmate housing areas at Raymond, while the sprinkler system at the Work Center “is only now working after years of not functioning,” Reeves wrote.

“This problem is exacerbated by the number of fires at RDC. One illustrative incident report shows that inmates set three separate fires in a one-hour timeframe, without any officers present in the area...” the judge said. “The potential ramifications are obvious and devastating. Still, the county has failed, if not refused, to take meaningful corrective action.”

As for other structural issues, many doors there do not lock, while other cells have had doors welded shut, which has led to the creation of “trash dumpster cells.”

“It has long been known that many of the security doors and locks at RDC are not functional... This is particularly pronounced when it comes to cell doors,” Reeves wrote.

In its October 27 report, the monitoring team reported that cell doors still do not lock and that “because the manual locks are located on the outside of the cell, if an officer enters the cell, he must leave the cell door popped open... Otherwise, the officer risks being locked in the cell.”

In some cases, cell doors have been welded close to seal off damaged cells. This temporary solution has led to the creation of “trash dumpster cells.” A report released by court monitors earlier this year showed that there were 30 such cells at the jail.

“Inmates... were able to deposit trash through the cells’ broken windows. as a result, the cells served ‘as a breeding ground for vermin,’” Reeves said, citing another monitor’s report.

That problem, coupled with an air conditioning unit that has been out for months, conditions for inmates in A-Pod continue to be unbearable.

Because of that, inmates have been allowed to pull their mattresses into the hall to sleep to stay cool. Thomas, though, said that sleeping outside, inmates have to deal with bugs and gnats.

Crisler said a work order had been put in to replace the HVAC but the order has yet to be acted on.

A report by a court monitor says the Hinds County Detention Center is understaffed and inmates...
A report by a court monitor says the Hinds County Detention Center is understaffed and inmates run the facility. (Source: WLBT)

Reeves also cites contraband concerns, inadequate medical and mental health offerings, and the large number of incidents where chemical spray was used.

According to findings, almost half of inmates housed in Raymond have contraband cell phones, excessive amounts of illicit drugs, shanks, and cash. Inmates have even been known to leave the facility to obtain contraband and bring it back inside.

The judge, meanwhile, describes management of mental and medical health at the jail as “abysmal.”

Like other problems at the jail, he said that, too, stems from staffing shortages. “Staff report that ‘procedures performed during medication pass have to be postponed or even canceled,’ or are completed haphazardly.” All the while, there is no mechanism in place for those medical failures to be reported.

As for the chemical spray concerns, the monitoring team has told the court that chemical spray is still being relied on to coerce compliance and violates the jail’s use of force policy, which mandates the spray may be used as a defensive measure, not as a means to coerce inmates into compliance with officers’ orders.

It’s unclear exactly what a federal receivership would look like. However, it is likely that the county and the sheriff would lose at least partial control of jail operations and that a federal receiver would be appointed to implement consent decree mandates.

“I can tell you this. A receivership says that the county would supply the funds and the DOJ would handle all the operations of the jail,” said District 3 Supervisor Credell Calhoun. “We don’t want that.”

Reeves himself says receiverships are “extraordinary remed(ies) that should be employed with utmost caution... In the prison context specifically, receiverships can be necessary ‘to run institutions where constitutional violations (are) occurring.”

In 2016, the Orleans Parish was facing a federal takeover of its jail, when the sheriff there agreed to appoint a “compliance director... who will have extensive power over the jail’s management and budget,” according to the Associated Press.

The sheriff’s department there came out of receivership in 2020. However, Reeves said since the receivership was lifted, little progress has been made. “We are in late 2020 with little to nothing to show for years of discussion, debate, handwringing, empty promises, and court orders regarding the treatment of special-needs inmates,” Reeves wrote, referring to the district court overseeing that case.

Reeves said the court could take other “creative measures” to enforce the decree, including appointing the governor to serve as receiver, as was done in the state of Alabama, or could simply close the jail until it is brought into compliance.

Hinds Co. Board of Supervisors President Credell Calhoun.
Hinds Co. Board of Supervisors President Credell Calhoun.(WLBT)

Calhoun said he plans to meet with the incoming sheriff to discuss the jail and the judge’s order. “I think we need to meet with the new sheriff and see where his head is and get his head where the board’s head is,” he said.

He also said the county has made progress in meeting degree requirements but did not go into detail. At the same time, the board of supervisors also has obtained quotes to build a new jail.

The roughly 30-year-old Raymond facility has suffered from structural issues for years, in part, due to its poor design and construction. In a 1994 article from the Clarion-Ledger, contractors cited several design issues with the 594-bed facility, including electrical and foundation problems.

When the jail opened that November, 18 of the first inmates brought in had to be housed in the booking area because the door locking system did not work, the Ledger reported.

The jail is owned and funded by the board of supervisors. However, day-to-day operations fall under the purview of the sheriff.

Both the board of supervisors and the sheriff’s department were named as parties when the federal government filed suit against the county in 2016 citing concerns with the jail, work center, and overall criminal justice system. The consent decree was handed down the same year.

Calhoun said he was unaware that Bryan had submitted her resignation and said he did not know what directive she was referring to.

For his part, Sheriff-elect Tyree Jones said he is aware of the order but hasn’t had a chance to read it.

Jail Administrator Kathryn Bryan could not be reached for comment. We have also reached out to Crisler and are waiting to hear back. Bryan is expected to stay on with the county until February, according to a source close to the situation.

Reeves’ office declined to comment.

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