‘We can’t wait’ | Federal judge orders takeover of Raymond Jail, months after he scaled back jail consent decree
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - During an evidentiary hearing this spring, Sheriff Tyree Jones said he wanted another shot to get problems fixed at the Raymond Detention Center, rather than having the jail taken over by the federal government.
Months later, the sheriff and other local leaders have lost that shot, and the judge that initially gave Jones a chance is ordering the jail be put under federal receivership.
Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves ordered that the federal government take over the Hinds County Detention Center and have that receiver in place no later than November 1.
“After ample time and opportunity, regretfully, it is clear that the county is incapable, or unwilling, to handle its affairs,” the judge wrote. “Additional intervention is required. It is time to appoint a receiver.”
County officials say they’re still digesting the order and are determining whether they will appeal.
It also comes as the county has made progress at the Raymond Detention Center, including completing renovations to the jail’s B-Pod in May.
In the order, Reeves discussed well-publicized problems at the jail, including staffing, which he says is now at its lowest level since the decree was put in place. The order does not apply to the Hinds County Work Center or the Henley-Young-Patton Juvenile Justice Center.
The county entered the initial decree in 2016 to bring the jail up to Constitutional standards. After failing to meet decree mandates, a new stipulated order was handed down in 2020. Following seven deaths at the facility in 2021, the judge ordered a hearing in February to determine whether the jail should be taken over.
No inmate deaths or inmate drug overdoses have been reported at the jail under Sheriff Tyree Jones, who was elected to the position in a special election last November. He was sworn in the following month.
Despite that, Judge Reeves took the sheriff and the board of supervisors to task, questioning their ability to address jail needs without a receiver.
“When pressed, Sheriff Jones admitted that the buck stops with him. But he went on to blame the facility’s shortfalls on COVID, the Monitor, and previous administrator Kathryn Bryan, who was hired with much fanfare,” Reeves wrote. “Supervisor Calhoun blamed his predecessors on the Board of Supervisors, even his wife.”
Calhoun is District 3 Supervisor Credell Calhoun. He took over the seat after his wife Peggy stepped down from the position.
“The county and sheriff cannot continue this exercise in accountability hot-potato, one which has proved deadly to detainees,” the judge opined.
Reeves also pointed to infighting among board members as a reason the county has likely not been able to bring the jail up to standards.
“The board is presently distracted by a struggle regarding who is entitled to be board president. During the board’s meetings, the would-be president, angry at being passed over, speaks over all others in the boardroom and prevents the board from conducting business,” he wrote. “The Hinds County Board of Supervisors is dysfunctional.
He also pointed to wasted resources, including the fact that the county constantly has to repair doors and other items damaged by inmates. Additionally, he questioned the county’s decision to pay Frank Shaw $72,000 to serve as interim jail administrator, despite the fact that he wasn’t sure when Shaw was actually at the detention center.
“RDC hired Mr. Shaw for a six-month term beginning on February 7, 2022. In exchange for his part-time services, Mr. Shaw receives $12,000 a month, his expenses, a housing allowance, and a $60 per diem for each day he spends on-site at RDC,” Reeves wrote. “It is unclear how many days, if any, Mr. Shaw has spent at RDC.”
A second evidentiary hearing was held on July 19, where court monitors and county officials again testified about progress in bringing the jail up to Department of Justice standards.
Reeves said staffing problems there continue to be “deeply alarming,” pointing to testimony provided by David Parrish, a staffing expert who is a member of the team of court-appointed monitors put in place to ensure the county complied with the decree.
“When asked about staffing levels in A-Pod, Mr. Parrish testified that it is getting worse,” Reeves wrote. “During an on-site visit in April 2022, for example, Mr. Parrish observed an officer leave the master control room of RDC unattended. Located in the booking area, the master control room contains video monitors that surveil the entire facility. Thus, when the sole officer on duty left... he jeopardized the whole jail.”
“The County continues to allude to [the] construction of the new jail as an opportunity for a fresh start. But, as Mr. Parrish testified during the July 19 proceeding, if the County continues to provide inadequate supervision and staffing, detainees will just dismantle that facility, too,” he wrote.
According to July 19 testimony, the county had 108 workers at the Raymond Detention Center. A staffing analysis shows that at least 248 people are needed for the jail to be adequately staffed.
Reeves said there were several factors to consider when determining whether a federal takeover was required, including whether there was an immediate threat to individual harm, whether the use of less extreme measures had been exhausted and whether there is a lack of leadership to turn the tide of the problem within a reasonable period of time.
The judge opined on both less and more-intrusive means to address jail concerns, including financial sanctions against the county, ordering the release of inmates, and requiring board members and the sheriff to spend a week or more detained there.
“Experiencing life at the jail firsthand would surely motivate the county’s leaders to correct unconstitutional conditions therein,” he said. “But this also seems an extreme remedy - at least, at the present.”
With what Reeves said are continued unconstitutional conditions, including doors that don’t lock, the lack of operable cameras, and the lack of staffing, the court cannot wait on the county to act.
“We can’t wait for continued destruction of the facilities. We can’t wait for the proliferation of more contraband. We can’t wait for more assaults. We can’t wait for another death. The time to act is now,” he said. “Upon appointment of a receiver, RDC shall no longer languish in the county’s inadequate grip.”
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