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Hinds Co. wants jail consent decree terminated; says it must be under federal law

Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond
Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond
Published: Jan. 21, 2022 at 3:45 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Two months after a federal judge said he was considering holding Hinds County in contempt for violating a federal consent decree governing its jail, attorneys for the county tell the judge it’s time to toss the consent decree out.

Friday, the county filed a motion for relief, saying that the consent decree must be terminated or modified under provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act.

Meanwhile, the county says it’s in at least partial compliance with 70 percent of consent decree mandates, “a clear reflection of the positive, upward trend of operations at the RDC.”

The RDC is the Raymond Detention Center.

The county entered a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2016 to address, among other things, unconstitutional living conditions at the facility.

The decree was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

Under terms of the order, the county had to increase staffing at the facility, make numerous repairs, and put in place to better meet the health and mental health needs of detainees.

Last year, though, six inmates died at the jail, including one in October who was beaten, left for dead, and not discovered for nearly nine hours.

In November, District Court Judge Carlton Reeves issued a show-cause order, giving the county three weeks to tell him why it should not be held in civil contempt for failing to bring the jail into compliance and why the jail should not be put into federal receivership.

“It is now 2020. 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 at the time. “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.’”

In January, Reeves informed parties that he would decide on whether he would put the jail under receivership in February, and set an evidentiary hearing for the week of January 24 to give each side time to argue their cases.

This week, that case was delayed until February 14, after the county filed an emergency motion informing the judge that their attorneys had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

The county has also filed a motion to have the decree dismissed, citing the PRLA, arguing, in part, that the order has been in place longer than the two years allowed under the act.

PRLA states that orders for relief “shall extend no further than necessary to correct the violation of the federal right of a particular plaintiff or plaintiffs,” and that the decrees “shall be terminable” two years after they are put in place, according to a copy of the law found at the Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute website.

The consent decree was approved on July 19, 2016, according to court records.

The county also argues decrees must be narrowly written and designed specifically to allow for the “least intrusive means necessary to correct (a) violation.”

The decree, though, includes 167 provisions that, attorneys say, “govern virtually every aspect of life at the county’s detention facilities.”

“Because the consent decree’s policies and provisions exceed the constitutional minimum necessary to provide the county’s inmates with basic sustenance, and the conditions of the county’s facilities do not violate inmate’s basic constitutional rights, the consent decree must be terminated or, alternatively, modified.”

All parties agreed to the terms of the decree when it was filed in 2016, according to records.

PRLA aside, the county also argues it is bringing the jail into compliance and has new leadership in place that has pledged to do that.

“On December 3, the voters of Hinds County elected Tyree Jones as the new sheriff... Sheriff Jones immediately met with RDC administrators and the Hinds County Board of Supervisors to pledge his support in continuing to improve RDC.”

Jones was elected in a special election in November. He was sworn in on December 3.

The motion also points to the county’s efforts to bring the jail into compliance, including approving a 5 percent pay raise for detention center workers, enrolling command staff in training to obtain national jail manager certification, and the hiring of a full-time mental health nurse practitioner and a new health services administrator. To increase staffing, a bi-monthly cadet class is also being offered for prospective employees.

Addressing staffing shortages is a major part of the decree. Those shortages, coupled with staffers not being at their assigned posts, have likely led to several of the inmate deaths reported there in the last year.

The deaths are listed below:

  • March 19 – an inmate died after jail workers refused to take him to the hospital on nurse’s orders
  • April 18 – a man hung himself in his cell when the officer on duty was not at his post
  • July 6 – death by hanging, although the record is not clear whether it was a suicide
  • August 3 – drug overdose; inmates reported they had been calling for assistance for five hours, but did not receive help
  • August 4 – COVID-19 complications; the monitoring team said there were questions as to when his symptoms first appeared and whether they were “timely and adequately responded to.”
  • October 18 - inmate assaulted in A-Pod, dies of injuries after a “medical episode.”

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