‘Bait-and-switch’: Federal judge won’t stay injunction governing Hinds County Detention Center during appeal

Carlton Reeves is a U.S. lawyer and jurist who currently serves as a United States District...
Carlton Reeves is a U.S. lawyer and jurist who currently serves as a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. Source: University of Virginia
Published: Sep. 7, 2022 at 8:21 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Hinds County’s jail consent decree won’t be put on hold while the case is on appeal.

On September 2, U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves denied a motion to stay the new injunction placed on the county this spring, following a two-week hearing.

Reeves’ ruling comes weeks after he ordered the Raymond Detention Center to be put under federal receivership in July. The case is currently being appealed to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court.

“The county has shown a clear lack of urgency and competency since this action was initiated over six years ago, and there is no indication that if left to its own devices, the situation will change anytime soon,” he wrote. “Detainees, who once again are persons presumed to be innocent, will continue to suffer substantial harm unless the county is held accountable.”

Seven people were killed at RDC in 2021. However, no inmate deaths have been reported at the facility since Tyree Jones took over as sheriff in December.

Reeves points to findings from an August 29 status conference, where the court received a progress report on the county’s compliance with the scaled-back decree.

“The county... has delayed plans to stop housing detainees in A-Pod, which the sheriff admits is an unsafe housing unit,” he wrote. “The county has shelved plans to build a mental health unit... And, despite claiming at trial that it was engaged in a ‘national search’ for a qualified jail administrator, it is now focusing on an internal candidate.”

Mental health unit plans were put on hold, according to court records, due to the fact that the county was planning to build a new jail. Supervisor Credell Calhoun and Sheriff Tyree Jones announced plans in March, saying it would be built on 16th section land along McDowell Road.

In July, Reeves ordered the federal takeover of RDC and to have a receiver in place no later than November 1, citing a lack of progress at the facility. Just months earlier, in April, the judge scaled back the consent decree at the county’s behest, agreeing that it was too large in scope to comply.

In his September ruling, Reeves tended to agree with arguments from the federal government that the court was being “gas-lighted.”

“At a routine status conference held August 29... the United States suggested that the county is not and does not intend to comply with the new injunction and stipulated order,” he wrote. “No more. The court agrees that ‘[c]ontinuing remedial efforts short of receivership will only lead to further confrontation, delay and serious harm to the people confined at the jail.”

Reeves also took the county to task for failing to comply with the scaled-back decree, even though officials said it was a “step forward” and a “step in the right direction.”

“Upon the new injunction’s release, Sheriff Tyree Jones held a press conference calling [it] ‘a step forward’ and a ‘step in the right direction’... The new injunction was also described as a ‘major victory for Hinds County,’” Reeves wrote, referencing media reports related to the ruling.

However, he said court subsequent court documents filed by the county say something else, that the decree was still problematic, with attorneys saying it’s still too “ambiguous,” “open-ended,” and “sets the county up to be non-compliant.”

Attorneys for the county previously argued that the decree should be thrown out or scaled back under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, saying it was “impossibly overbroad” and had “too many gaps” that gave monitors too much say in determining whether the jail was in compliance.

The jail was first put under a consent decree in 2016. After that, a stipulated order was handed down in 2020, requiring more specific mandates to bring the jail into compliance. Reeves agreed to scale back the 2016 degree in the spring, giving the county until July 1 to make progress on bringing RDC into compliance with it.

“The new injunction merely requires the county to meet the absolute minimum constitutional standards and set forth the least intrusive means to correct violations,” Reeves wrote. “Unfortunately, the county’s arguments are not new and are demonstrative of the county’s modus operandi – bait-and-switch.”

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