Renting jail spaces to hold people accused of misdemeanors is a waste of money and an ethically wrong approach, Urban Peace Institute Senior Consultant on Conflict and Violence Ron Noblet said in an interview with the Jackson Free Press.
He was reacting to Jackson City Council's Sept. 10 approval for $500,000 to rent prisons for such offenders in other counties and cities.
Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth I. Stokes proposed the idea after bringing up the issue of law-enforcement officers releasing misdemeanor offenders because Hinds County does not take them, saying that doing so encourages more offending.
"The idea of locking a person up or keeping him in jail for a nonviolent misdemeanor is counterproductive," Noblet said in a rebuke to the move to rent more jails. "If there is no fear of them running away, of going out of state, it is fairly simple to say, ‘show up at a certain time in the future when there is time to adjudicate what you have been accused of, and then we can deal with the guilt or lack of guilt at that time.’"
Capt. Tyree Jones of the Hinds County Sheriff's Office confirmed to the Jackson Free Press that they are not taking misdemeanor offenders in the three county jails, except those involved in domestic violence, citing the consent decree that the county is under.
The Federal Government entered into a consent decree with the county in 2015 because of various operational lapses.
"It is (the) federal consent decree that the Hinds County Sheriff's Office is under,” Jones said. “We have been under it for a few years now, one of the stipulations of the consent decree is about our misdemeanor prisoners. The consent decree was established years ago due to a situation in Hinds County detention centers."
"(Jackson Police Department has) their own facility. They are able to hold people in their own facility, and release them from there," he said. "They take them to their jail first, and they used to take them to Hinds County, but that is not the case anymore, unless it is a felony arrest."
Rather than expand jails, Noblet suggested adding better-trained judges and having more support staff for the judges to adjudicate cases and move them along speedily.
"A nonviolence misdemeanor can be adjudicated (on time)," he said. "(But) there are not enough clerks, and the system is overburdened and understaffed and underfunded.
Capt. Jones, on Sept. 15, said that Hinds County jails hold 397 prisoners. That number is down from March's number, which was 432 prisoners.
Of the 397, 244 offenders have been indicted and are awaiting trial, Jones said. He said the rest might be awaiting indictments or are being held for various charges.
JPD Public Information Officer Sam Brown confirmed to the Jackson Free Press that the Hinds County jail does not admit those with misdemeanor charges.
"We can arrest the misdemeanor, but at this point, the Raymond detention center—which is controlled by the sheriff's office—they are not accepting any misdemeanor crimes for holding," he said. "So if a misdemeanor crime is committed, then they will not spend the night in jail.
"They will get placed under arrest, they will get a court date, and then they will be released," he added. "But as far as locking (them) up, the county is only accepting, at this time, felony arrests, domestic or felony homicide. They are not holding any misdemeanor (offenders) at this time because of the overcrowding of the jail."
He welcomed the idea of renting jail space and said it might be frustrating for some officers to make arrests and have the offender put right back on the street.
"You arrest a guy, and you don't have anywhere to take them, so I can understand that being a little frustrating. That's just normal," he said. "(Officers) bring (misdemeanor offenders) to the holding place, (and) they are released back. That could be frustrating for some officers.
"Any idea that will give us more beds will work—whether it be renting spaces, using other municipalities’ or counties' jail, private prisons, or whatever the case may be," he added. "Then you will be able to detain or hold them when they commit these crimes, misdemeanor crimes, but right now with the misdemeanors, there is no place to put them."
Noblet, however, questions the idea of jailing those accused of low-level misdemeanor offenses. "It is a waste of space, money and time to keep a nonviolent misdemeanor offender in jail; ethically, it is a waste of human energy—the jails are overcrowded," Noblet said.
Email story tips to city/county reporter Kayode Crown at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @kayodecrown.