An inmate at the Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond has tested positive for COVID-19, the Hinds County Sheriff’s Office confirmed on April 10. File Photo by Trip Burns
A Hinds County Detention Center corrections officer has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the Hinds County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Friday. “The officer is currently off work and undergoing medical treatment for the illness,” the office stated in an April 10 press release.
“This situation is being actively monitored. Officials with the Hinds County Sheriff’s Office are in contact with officials of the MS State Department of Health regarding this situation,” the three-sentence statement concluded.
The Jackson Free Press was unable to reach the sheriff’s office by press time to learn what measures it is taking to protect the spread of COVID-19 to jail inmates.
But Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens said this morning that his office was still working to release certain low-level and non-violent offenders on reduced bond or electronic monitoring, among other forms of conditional release.
“Currently in the jail, there’s less than 10% non-violent offenders, and those individuals who are there are being there for other reasons, whether it be sanity issues or health issues related to existing crimes,” Owens said. “But we have reduced that population to almost solely violent offenders currently.”
Police departments and jails around the country are revisiting their arrest and jail booking procedures in the wake of COVID-19. Police officers, first responders, corrections officers, and others who move in and out of jail or have close contact with the communities they serve are at heightened risk for contracting and spreading the novel coronavirus. People locked up in jails and prisons, who are confined to crowded spaces and therefore unable to practice social distancing, are among the most vulnerable to contracting COVID-19.
Hinds County’s jail population database indicates that 383 people are currently locked up in county jails awaiting trial. That number is a significant decrease from the 475 to 500 average in recent months.
After a Jackson Police Department officer tested positive for COVID-19, JPD confirmed to the Jackson Free Press on March 27 that the agency would no longer jail people for misdemeanors.
But a review of Hinds County’s jail roster shows that, on April 13, JPD arrested a 31-year-old man for marijuana possession.
The Jackson Free Press asked JPD officer Sam Brown about that arrest. Brown said that he would look into the case and respond. In the meantime, he explained that while the department was still de-prioritizing low-level, misdemeanor arrests, that an individual may still end up in jail if a judge has ordered law enforcement to jail them because of a prior criminal record or deemed them a habitual offender under Mississippi law.
“It depends on what that individual has in their file. The charge that they were arrested on could be a misdemeanor, but they may have something else pending,” Brown said.
Seyma Bayram is covering the outbreak inside the capital city and in the criminal-justice system. Email her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SeymaBayram0.