Hinds County wants more time to fix problems at jail

December 16, 2021 GMT

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi county has asked a federal judge for more time to address problems at its detention center.

Hinds County filed a response Tuesday to U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves’ order that county officials show why the Hinds County Detention Center should not be taken over by the federal government. Reeves cited numerous failures on the county’s part to bring the jail into compliance with a Department of Justice consent decree put in place five years ago.

The county, in its response, touted its efforts to bring the jail into compliance, while agreeing that more work needs to be done. It also said that the county also has plans to build a new jail, WLBT-TV reported.

Attorneys for the county also argued that its current leaders did not create problems at the facility, which has been plagued with structural issues since it opened in 1994.

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“The county has a relatively new board of supervisors, a new sheriff (who has been in office mere 11 days as of this response), and a new detention administrator. ... None of these individuals created the problems at RDC, and they should be given a reasonable opportunity (collectively) to change the situation,” the response said.

The county asked the court to give it until July 1, 2022, to implement “even more significant, positive changes at RDC before the court decides to take the drastic, extraordinary steps it is considering taking.”

Day-to-day operations of the jail in Raymond are handled by the sheriff’s department. However, it is the supervisors’ responsibility to fund it. Under federal receivership, the county would lose at least partial control of the jail but would be required to fund improvements on the federal government’s order.

The county entered into a consent decree with the federal government in 2016 to address “unconstitutional conditions” at the jail. Problems cited included critical staffing shortages, doors that don’t lock to jail cells, as well as jail cells that have been welded shut rather than repaired.

So far this year, six inmates have died at the facility, including one on Oct. 18 who was beaten but not found until nine hours after the alleged incident.

Monitors appointed by the court to oversee the jail reported that some deaths were likely the result of workers not being at their posts.

The county outlined a number of improvements that have been made at the facility since the consent decree, including the July hiring of Kathryn Bryan as jail administrator. She has implemented several policy changes, including some to ensure detention officers are doing their jobs and to cut down on contraband, the television station said.

Additionally, the county has approved Bryan’s request to purchase and install an electronic system to ensure officers are conducting their assigned rounds.