Judge scales back consent decree; Sheriff says Hinds Co. avoids jail takeover
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - In an evidentiary hearing weeks ago, Hinds County Sheriff Tyree Jones explained why he didn’t want the Raymond Detention Center to be put into federal receivership.
“I want the opportunity for my administration to make a difference to address the jail situation,” he said. “It’s owned by the citizens of Hinds County. It’s the sheriff’s duty to oversee the jail as well as jail operations. I want to be responsible for getting us out of the current situation we’re in.”
Jones now has his chance.
Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves handed down an order scaling back the county’s jail consent decree.
The order is a major victory for Hinds County, which for months has been attempting to stave off a federal takeover of its detention center and had asked the court to do away with the decree, saying it was too large for the county to ever be able to comply with.
The judge agreed, in part, issuing a new order reducing the decree and putting in place a permanent injunction to address several unconstitutional issues the county had yet to fully address, including detainees’ protection from harm, use of force, use of segregation, grievance reporting, and other factors.
“After a lengthy evidentiary hearing and a comprehensive review of the constitutional minimums, the court finds that ongoing constitutional violations require a limited number of the provisions of the consent decree to remain in place,” Reeves wrote. “At the same time, the county’s alternative request - for the consent decree to be dramatically scaled back - is also due to be granted.”
However, some punishment could still be on the horizon for the county.
In his 149-page ruling, Reeves said that the county will face consequences for failing to comply with the initial decree, and went on to cite the county for failing to implement numerous federal mandates in the more than five years the initial decree had been in place.
He also ruled that the county must begin implementing provisions of a new federal injunction within 30 days. Those provisions include:
- Ensuring the jail is overseen by a qualified jail administrator and leadership team
- Developing policies to regulate the use of force and report the use of force
- Developing and implementing use of force training programs
- Developing policies to report and evaluate the use of force
- Developing/implementing policies to address sexual abuse and misconduct
- Implementing a detainee grievance program
- Implementing restrictions on the use of detainee segregation
Reeves said the county “must review all existing policies and procedures to ensure their compliance with... this injunction” and “where RDC does not have a policy or procedure in place that complies with this injunction, the county must revise or draft such a policy or procedure.”
Copies of the injunction must be provided to all jail staff and posted in each unit within 30 days.
Jones said he had not read the entirety of the ruling Wednesday afternoon but had been in contact with attorneys and other county officials to discuss the ruling.
“To my understanding, the consent decree has been modified and there will not be a federal takeover at this time,” he said.
The ruling comes a little more than a month after a weeks-long evidentiary hearing in the case wrapped up, and after Judge Reeves issued a second contempt order for the county failing to bring its jail into compliance with its 2016 decree.
It also comes as the county has filed a notice to potentially appeal Reeves’ decision to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Despite his decision to scale back the decree, Reeves said he was still concerned about the county’s failure to comply with the previous federal mandates.
Hinds County entered into the decree in 2016 to bring the jail up to U.S. Department of Justice Standards. After failing to do so, a new stipulated order was issued four years later.
A show-cause order was issued last year after seven deaths at the Raymond Detention Center were reported and after court-appointed monitors continued to outline compliance issues at the facility.
The judge also raised some concerns with the testimony presented at the February hearing. Among those concerns, Reeves questioned the county’s testimony that it had failed to implement the decree, in part, due to significant changes in leadership.
Jones had only been in office a couple of months prior to the hearing. Meanwhile, the county had gone through a slew of county administrators in recent years.
Reeves, though, didn’t buy the argument, saying Jones was familiar with the jail as a member of the former Sheriff Lee Vance’s command staff and that Board of Supervisors President Credell Calhoun, along with his wife, had served the county longer than the RDC has been in place.
Calhoun, now in his first term, was elected to replace his wife, Peggy Calhoun, who served District 3 for 28 years, court records indicate.
“The county has now shifted all of its focus to a new jail administrator and a new jail, rather than the constitutional violations at hand,” the judge wrote. “But neither of these is a panacea.”
He pointed to the fact that the interim jail administrator has no experience running pre-trial detention facilities, but prisons. He also said that the first phase of a new jail would not be completed until June 2025.
“First, even were the court to assume that the county will indeed have the requisite funding streams to complete this project on the timetable provided, its completion is at least three years away. And even then, it will only have 1/3 of the beds that RDC currently does,” Reeves wrote.
“Second, the county’s representations are, at this point, of questionable worth. The undersigned has been involved in this case since December 2018. Since then, the county has made many promises - big and small. For example, tables and chairs. In 2019, the court urged the county to immediately provide detainees with chairs to sit in and tables on which to eat... And yet, the February 2022 evidentiary hearing revealed that there are still no tables and chairs in several of the living units.”
Those concerns aside, the judge struck many provisions of the 2016 decree, saying they overstepped the minimum requirements to bring the jail into compliance.
Among those provisions was the requirement to establish a coordinating committee, which was designed, in part, to help develop programs to divert detainees from arrest, detention, and incarceration.
“While helpful, (the provisions) go beyond the minimum standards required by the constitution,” Reeves said. “Although these sections were designed to aid the county in complying with its basic obligations, they exceed the constitutional ‘floor’ and thus, do not survive the county’s termination motion.”
He also struck some provisions of the decree where the county was in compliance, including those governing the Hinds County Work Center and governing the need for a compliance officer, as well as provisions governing juvenile detention.
“There is a separate consent decree governing the county’s detention center for youthful prisoners, Henley-Young. The court wishes to avoid interference with that consent decree,” Reeves wrote.
A copy of Reeves’ 149-page order is shown below, as well as the 10-page injunction.
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