Sheriff Malcolm McMillin is not a small person. McMillin stands at 6 feet and weighs in at 250 pounds. He engages in regular fitness training, sports a shaved head, watermelon-sized arms and has a sign in his downtown parking space that reads "Harley Davidson parking only." McMillin cuts an imposing figure when he strides into the county Circuit Court building on Pascagoula Street. No surprise there. He'd probably cut an imposing figure striding into a crowd of bison.
Despite his intimidating appearance, however, the sheriff's popularity remains high. The Hinds County Democrat has served for 14 years in a county that is collecting an ever-greater number of African-American politicians with each election year.
McMillin holds his own in most confrontations. The thick skin comes in handy when battling county supervisors over budget financing.
Nevertheless, McMillin has had a hard fight keeping the county justice system funded. It all comes down to a matter of differing priorities, he says.
How long have you been in law enforcement?
I've been doing law enforcement for more than 30 years. I've been administrative assistant to the state parole board and special assistant to the executive director of the Department of Human Services, served four years as a constable, and the rest of the time I was in the Jackson Police Department.
A representative of the National Institute of Corrections paid a visit recently, trying to devise an estimate of the problems plaguing the Hinds County Justice system. Have there been any conclusions made this early?
No. No conclusions yet. Last year around this time the problem was unindicted pre-trial detainees, and everybody was pointing their finger at the district attorney. Now the issue in overcrowding is indicted pre-trial detainees. It seems the county has done a good job of getting them indicted, but now the new caseload is more than the system can take care of. We're trying to deal with 2005 problems with the staff we had in 1990. You could say we've only moved the drain clog a little further down the pipe. The sheriff's office is arresting people, and the Jackson police are arresting people. Hopefully, our consultant will help us identify where that problem is.
Any commitments from city administration people and local legislators to any of the recommendations the consultant may make?
No, it's too premature to tell. What I hope to do is have people see that this is one part of the big picture, that the criminal justice system is a big system, and if one area of it breaks down, then the whole system shuts down. I think the attitude that people have at this point is that the lights ought to be burning in the courthouse. We have a crisis, and most city residents now believe it is a crisis based upon the success of Frank Melton, who was elected on crime being a major issue. Other elected officials need to understand that that's what people are starting to believe. They want to see lights burning in the courthouse and that we need to do what we need to do to do away with this backlog.
It may be that we'll find out that it may be too much workload for the people we have on the bench, and it may be necessary to appoint others to the bench. It can be done on a temporary basis. The problem is that I've been one of the few voices trying to get something moving on this. Maybe at this point, with the change in city administration and the spirit of cooperation between City Council members and some members of the Board of Supervisors, this may be the ideal time to do that.
I saw you fighting with Doug Anderson last week when supervisors were considering trying to hire private security for the county courtroom.
I won't allow county services to be privatized. The idea of a company coming in and saying they're going to do something more efficiently and cheaper while making a profit is ludicrous. They'll have to work hard to do it for less than the county, which doesn't make a profit off the service. The only way they can do that is by sacrificing quality. We saw how well that worked with private prisons. It didn't.
What keeps you coming back to the job?
I enjoy it. I look forward to it. It's an opportunity to make a difference. Dealing with supervisors is a challenge, but I don't see myself going to the house and planting honeydew melons. I don't think I've reached that stage where I'm ready to take a rocking chair. I still think there's plenty I can do. I've had offers in the private sector, but I'll just stay where I am.
You've fought viciously with supervisors over what you call a broken promise of more patrol vehicles. Tell me about that.
Since I've been elected, the board has never had a policy of buying cars each year in order to retire those vehicles from the fleet that have reached the end of the line and have too much mileage, and that's a shame because with increased mileage comes more maintenance requirements until the maintenance costs become counter-productive. The board always tries to put the sheriff in the position where I have to think about either cutting personnel or buying cars. We're going to have a symbolic bake sale on the grounds of the jail between the Chancery Court building and the courthouse and sell cakes and muffins to try to replace some of our high-mileage patrol cars because the board gave me a zero growth budget and outside that zero-growth budget they promised, they promised, to buy 15 cars this year. We're in November now. Doug Anderson said 'we'll do this and we'll do that,' but what bothers me most is they lied to me. Don't lie to me. Don't change my budget. I'm still distressed over the way that happened, and I want the public to know what they did to the Sheriff's Department.
There was a $50,000 donation to a museum in Jackson, but the way I see it, if you don't have the money to budget for public safety, you have no business giving money away. That's at least two patrol cars right there. I had to look around for funding to pay for an investigator in my Crimes Against Children Unit. That really bothers me when we start talking about risking the protection of youth against those who would abuse them.
I think some politicians' priorities need to change. In any society, the need for public safety should be satisfied first, but I think they've lost sight of that. I don't think, really, that they listen to the people sometimes.
There are often complaints of overcrowding at the county jail. Is that the reality?
The law says we're overcrowded, but I think overcrowding isn't the worst of our problems. We're not overcrowded up here, but we have an antiquated facility (county jail) built by morons who didn't do it right. We've got leaky ceilings and sub-par construction. The trailers you see sitting down there at the penal farm house 20 inmates each. There are no bathroom facilities, no showers there. This facility is almost 50 years old and, hell, we've worn it out, and these are not the best conditions to house someone in.
During a tour of the county jail you introduced me to a class of about 20 kids, most under 17, who were waiting for trial and learning high school skills while they waited for their court date. What's the purpose of that?
If we don't do something to try to change people while they're incarcerated, if we don't practice a little behavior modification, if we don't try to educate and train them, there's no meaning to the word rehabilitation. There was only one person in that classroom that there's a possibility that he may not get out again. Everybody else is going to be released at one time or another. It's in our best interest to see that they're better off to function in society then they were when they came in.
People nowadays think that rehabilitation and punishment are mutually exclusive, but there's room for both. If you've got somebody with all the advantage of a system, so to speak, and they commit a crime and get put into jail, how do you rehabilitate them? Let's use Kenneth Lay, with Enron. Will we put Lay in the penitentiary and teach him how to repair shoes? His time in there should be considered punishment, and if he's guilty of those things he's been accused of, he should be punished. I'm OK with that. But that's not the way it is. The system really takes some kid out of society, who's had no role model, no full-time parents and an environment full of drugs to grow up in. They nab him for burglary, and they give him 10 years and put him to work in a damn cotton field, then when he gets out of there, he's just as ill-prepared to do anything on the outside as he was when he went in. Now where the hell is the justice in that? There isn't any, and it's wrong, and when folks get upset about that I have to sympathize with them because that's the way the system's skewed.
The way it ought to be is that damn Kenneth Lay ought to be the one dragging a damn cotton sack in a damn field. We're going to let him take advantage of the system and slap him on the wrist? I don't want him slapped on the wrist. I want to see his ass get spanked!
At a recent visit, the instructor teaching the kids dotingly showed us some test scores. These are kids who barely showed up for class in the outside world. Some of them dropped out before eighth grade, but many of them have gone up at least two grade points since they got there. It that unusual?
Nope. When you have discipline and smaller classes, you have order, and you can learn. If you don't, then you have chaos. I think this is a good example of how to do it in the public schools. If smaller classes and strict discipline can help young felons succeed in their studies just think of what it can do for your kid. Frankly, I think we need smaller schools. I'm not an educator, but that's a personal observation. Also, sometimes folks just need to hear that they're OK. You're OK. You're not any different than anybody else.
Who's paying for that class?
That class back there doesn't cost the county anything. That teacher is paid for by Jackson Public Schools. There was once the possibility that they were going to cut funding for that teacher. I went before the school board and requested that they reconsider that and how important a job like hers is. And that the majority of the kids sitting in that class were from the city of Jackson, and if they weren't in my classroom, they would have been in theirs. They recognized the validity of that argument, and they re-funded that position, and I'm grateful for that.
You're a fan of alternatives to jails, right?
Yes. Community service is the ideal alternative. Let's say a man gives you 30 hours or 30 days community service. You might do that 44 hours over 60 days. You might do it at night, with no change in address. All you need is to have somebody with the city who's willing and has the desire to do it. Hell, I did that myself when I was working with the city as a patrolman. I went to the clerk's office at the city, and I asked for those people who had fines who had not paid and could not pay and set them up in community service. I had one guy come in and worked off $1,800 in traffic fines. He wasn't working. He didn't have any money, but he came every day and swept streets until he paid his fine off. It was very, very successful and there's no reason why it can't be done now.
Getting back to the county's shrinking tax base, where will you have to look if more budget cuts are in the works for the county?
Well, with the shrinking tax base and the declining population, perhaps we could get along with fewer supervisors. The way I see it, that would free up a couple of automobiles and almost $100,000.
Noticed a sheriff patrol car in front of me the other night and penned in shoe polish on the back window was the mileage of the car. It was over 140,000. Effective way to get a point across.
I enjoyed this article. It was well written and I actually enjoyed what he had to say. You can tell that surprised me...;)
- Lori G
Oh Adam...didn't mean it was surprising your article was good. I've come to expect that of you. :) Was more surprised how much I like the man.
- Lori G