County and city still in talks on creating misdemeanor holding facility

Chief James Davis looks at a control panel at the downtown jail.
Chief James Davis looks at a control panel at the downtown jail.(WLBT)
Published: Apr. 26, 2022 at 5:45 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Hinds County leaders say they’re still in talks with the city of Jackson about transferring ownership of the downtown jail.

However, when those talks will wrap up remains to be seen.

Months after local leaders announced plans to reopen the downtown jail as a misdemeanor holding facility, plans to reopen that facility - and transfer ownership to the city of Jackson – are still not finalized.

Board of Supervisors attorney Tony Gaylor says talks between the city and the county have been ongoing, and he hopes they will wrap up as soon as possible.

Among concerns, parties have to work out who will staff the facility and who will make the repairs needed before it can reopen.

Gaylor said the city and county also are working out the agreement to ensure the sheriff’s department is not affected by the transfer.

The jail is located on S. President Street behind the Hinds County Courthouse. It is in the same building as the sheriff’s department administrative offices. The first floor of the downtown facility also houses the jail’s control room and the holding cells for detainees going to court.

“Some would have liked to see this deal done yesterday. But we’re trying to make sure all the Is are dotted and Ts are crossed properly,” Gaylor said.

Plans to reopen the facility were announced last year, at a press conference with Jackson Police Chief James Davis and then-Interim Sheriff Marshand Crisler.

At the time, Davis said the facility was needed because the city was having to field-release too many misdemeanor offenders.

JPD typically would take those arrested for misdemeanors to its own holding facility or to the Raymond Detention Center, depending on the charge.

However, under the county’s jail consent decree, RDC is no longer able to house most misdemeanor offenders, except for those arrested on DUI and domestic violence charges.

Between March 2020 and November 2021, JPD had to field-release some 3,300 individuals who would have otherwise gone to jail, Davis said in November.

The fact is not lost on Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes, who agrees that the city needs a misdemeanor holding space.

“You have four-wheelers destroying the streets and everything... You have simple assaults where you have everything but blood. And the police officers arrest them... the people are either field-released or back on the streets,” he said. “We got to start arresting these misdemeanors, to make sure these misdemeanors will not move higher and become felons.”

Stokes is proposing setting aside funds to house misdemeanor offenders outside of the county. “It’s nothing new. It’s a common thing that we’ve done before,” he said. “I think our responsibility is transporting them and getting them back here.”

Previously, the city council set aside funds to house misdemeanor detainees in Yazoo and Holmes counties. However, the city never acted on the proposal, and the council pulled the funds set aside for those agreements last fall to help fund police pay raises.

As for the downtown holding facility, other logistical issues also must be worked out, including who will staff it and who will pay for its repairs.

It was unclear how much repairs to the jail would cost. County Administrator Kenny Wayne Jones said county facilities workers were also assessing the building. “We’re almost finished our side of it and looking at that, then we’re going to sit back down with the city, see what they want to do, and help them go from there,” he said.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba told the council Tuesday that Chief Administrative Officer Louis Wright had sent out a memo outlining the expenses. However, WLBT has not been able to obtain a copy of the document.

The state could help make repairs but did not set aside money during the 2022 legislative session because it was unclear who would own the building.

“What the lieutenant governor told us is that he had a discussion about putting $600,000 into the downtown jail, but there was some confusion about how the county had conveyed the building over to the city,” District 26 Sen. John Horhn said. “The bottom line is we didn’t have a clear understanding of who was in control of it.”

Horhn legislature this year did allocate $12 million in discretionary funds to the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, funds that the city or county could possibly take advantage of.

As for staffing, both JPD and the sheriff’s department already facing shortages. Recently, Asst. Chief Joseph Wade said JPD was short 98 sworn officers and 67 civilian employees.

The sheriff is also struggling to keep positions filled in Raymond. In January, the jail had just 191 workers, the lowest since the decree was put in place.

Jones said the county must transfer ownership to Jackson because it likely can’t reopen it under terms of its current consent decree.

U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves recently entered a new permanent injunction against the county, scaling back its 2016 decree.

The downtown jail was closed in 2020 at the behest of court-appointed monitors overseeing the county’s consent decree. The three-story facility can house approximately 180 detainees.

“The space isn’t conducive for long-term detainees. All of the programs necessary to keep detainees for a longer period of time, as we do in Raymond, can’t be accomplished at that facility,” Gaylor explained. “That wouldn’t be a problem for the city’s short-term needs.”

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