One Jail’s Tale: Hinds County Detention Center At Risk of Federal Takeover | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

One Jail’s Tale: Hinds County Detention Center At Risk of Federal Takeover

The Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond, Miss., suffered from structural defects from its opening on Monday, Nov. 14, 1994. File photo by Trip Burns / Courtesy Jackson Free Press

The Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond, Miss., suffered from structural defects from its opening on Monday, Nov. 14, 1994. File photo by Trip Burns / Courtesy Jackson Free Press

JACKSON, Miss.—The Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond was problematic from the beginning.

The woes really started when the detention center opened on Monday, Nov. 14, 1994, after a problem-plagued process to build and open it. When officials brought 18 detainees from the downtown Jackson jail to the new location, an electronic door-locking system malfunctioned, putting a temporary halt to the planned relocation.

The new detainees were in the jail’s holding area until the next day as officials scrambled to fix the door. The locking problem would continue to plague the jail for years after that.

Then-jail administrator Arty Girod told The Clarion Ledger on Nov. 29, 1994, that “I can’t in good conscience recommend filling the jail up with the system failures we are having.”

Since that time, the jail designed to improve conditions for detainees has faced a myriad of problems: structural deficiencies, chronic understaffing and poor management.

But fixing those problems have been elusive under whatever sheriff and Hinds County Board of Supervisors are in elected office at a given time. Now, 27 years later, the federal government may take over the Hinds County Detention Center, wresting control from local officials.

‘The Way It Was Build Was a Mistake’

The Raymond jail rose out of apparent good intentions.

The county wanted to use the new 594-bed jail to take pressure off the 193-capacity downtown Jackson detention center. The jail was supposed to be built in September 1993, but concerns about design flaws caused delays.

The board of supervisors had committed $13.9 million for the project in 1991, but they later approved over $2 million in additional costs because subcontractors said that the original design left out some items. Allen & Hoshall LTD Architects Engineers, the leading architectural firm for the facility, blamed subcontractors Encon Inc. and Madison Madison International for the incomplete plans for the project, The Clarion-Ledger noted on June 1, 1994.

“The problem we’re having is that when the power fails, whatever is open, stays open and whatever is locked stays locked,” jail administrator Girod told The Clarion-Ledger in 1994. “We can operate that manually, but there is a time factor involved here in this environment that could create a safety and security nightmare.”

The total project, including jail and well construction, jail furnishings and equipment, was close to $19.8 million, The Clarion Ledger reported.

“This is a $20-million facility, and my position is that it ought to be operating properly all the time, not just some of the time,” Girod added. He called conditions at the jail an ongoing “security nightmare.”

Richard Spooner, who is now running for Hinds County sheriff, was there as a detention officer when the Raymond jail opened in 1994. “There were several things that went wrong with the jail,” he told the Mississippi Free Press in a phone interview on Oct. 6. “The way it was built was a mistake.”

“You know, it opened up in (1994). It was supposed actually to open up before then, but when they built the jail, they forgot to put drains in the showers,” he added. “And I’m not talking about the draining caps; I’m talking about the pipes.”

“So they had to tear up all the showers and put the pipes in. That’s just an example of how badly the jail was constructed.”

Safety and the Consent Decree Albatross

On June 23, 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice reached what it called “a landmark settlement agreement” with Hinds County. “The agreement resolves the department’s findings that the Hinds County Adult Detention Center and the Jackson City Detention Center—which together form the Hinds County jail—failed to protect prisoners from violence and excessive force and held them past their court-ordered release dates, in violation of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA),” the department wrote.

District Judge William H. Barbour Jr. previously oversaw the consent decree. But in December 2018, Chief District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III assigned U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves to the case, and he is showing less patience with the county jail’s lingering conditions, as well as unresolved safety and management concerns.

In a January 2020 order, Reeves noted the slow progress in the compliance with the consent decree, despite Hinds County spending over $7 million on its detention facilities since 2013 and the board of supervisors approving an additional $500,000 for it in the final months of 2019.

“Many factors contribute to the continuing lack of safety. For sake of clarity, the Court has identified three primary areas of concern: physical infrastructure, policies and procedures, and staffing and management,” Reeves wrote.

“As of the most recent Monitor’s report, the County has reached sustained compliance (by January 2020) in only one of the 92 requirements of the Consent Decree,” he added. “Only one.” Elizabeth E. Simpson is the court-appointed consent decree monitor.

Reeves provided 44 time-bound conditions in January 2020 that the county must meet to move it firmly toward compliance. The stipulated deadlines were between one month and 15 months, which ended in April 2021.

However, by July 2021, Simpson reported that the county had met only 11 out of the 44 conditions. The report painted a dire picture of the progress that Hinds County has made on the jail.

“Although the County and the Sheriff’s Office have taken a number of positive steps in the last monitoring period, including the hiring of a very well qualified Detention Administrator, the operations, particularly at RDC (Raymond Detention Center), have continued to be problematic and it could be said have worsened,” she wrote.

‘Very Disturbing Trend’: High Number of Assaults

The monitor reported that the number of fights and assaults there reached a record high in May in the jail that is plagued by the problem of long-time pre-trial detainees—people arrested and then spending many months of years there before going to trial.

“There continue to be fires set by detainees, there is an extremely large amount of contraband in the facility including drugs, there have been a number of overdoses although no deaths from those overdoses, and there have been three deaths, two by suicide,” she wrote.

“Although there is some cause for optimism with the new Detention Administrator being hired, this is a very disturbing trend.”

Simpson said the size of the mental-health caseload has continued to grow, now including “a larger percentage of extremely unstable, acutely ill detainees,” she added. She noted that the two suicides recorded earlier in the year at that jail highlight the need to “review and make more rigorous the facility’s suicide prevention program.”

Based on conversations with county officials, Simpson said opening a mental-health unit at the jail is several months away.

“Therefore, there is an urgent need for additional mental-health staff, especially staff who have experience treating more acutely ill, complicated cases, and so QCHC and the County must work together to establish the additional mental-health staff positions that are so severely needed,” she added.

$80 Million for a New Jail?

Judge Reeves’ “stipulated orders” included evaluating “the option of building a new facility or further renovating existing facilities.”

Meanwhile, Simpson wrote in July that the Master Planning Committee for the jail is now planning a phased implementation of the second option, which is renovating existing facilities.

The new sheriff, come November, must bear the burden of the consent decree with the various demands.

Eric Wall, one of the candidates, spent 20 months as the chief deputy for operations in the Hinds County sheriff’s office under Vance’s leadership. He chose to retire in August after Vance’s death.

He told the Mississippi Free Press in a Sept. 12 phone interview that it is illusory to regard the consent decree as something that will be over within one year, adding that the idea of getting a new jail is not on the immediate horizon because of the prohibitive cost.

“In order to build a new jail, every 150 beds would cost $20 million approximately,” Wall said. “Raymond Detention Center and the Work Center (can) hold approximately 590 detainees. But the issue is that not all 590 cells are working.”

“Some of them are sealed cells because of the plumbing, and all of those other issues that we have,” he added. “So in order to come from under the consent decree, We would have to meet every related audit that we’ve been mandated by the Department of Justice, which equates to millions of dollars that would have to be spent by the board of supervisors.”

“And they don’t have the money to spend all at once to get us out of the consent decree.”

Wall said the problem has intensified over the years as successive Hinds County boards of supervisors have “kicked the can down the road.” He specifically noted the problem of the door not locking as having been “an ongoing issue over the years.”

“It’s been allowed to decay to almost a point of disrepair,” Wall said. “Probably at this point, the best thing we can hope to do is tear down and build a new facility.”

After Vance’s 2020 assumption of office as Hinds County sheriff, their team’s number-one priority, Wall said, was to go in and try to get the doors to lock.

“Within our first year, we were able to get the board to appropriate enough money to hire contractors that are in the jail-building business, and by doing so, we were able to have them to manufacture and refurbish doors in the C pod, which was totally shut down,” Wall explained. The facility has three pods: A, B and C.

“We got the doors refurbished; we got them rebuilt. We got the door remodeled,” he added. “The doors will lock at this point, but there’s still some other work that needs to be done on those doors because (the detainees are) kicking out the windows.”

“But yes, within our first year, we were able to go into the jail and get C Pod up and running.”

Persistent and Unrepaired Damage to Jail

Colendula Green, who is also running for Hinds County sheriff, said in a Sept. 24 email statement that jail repairs should be done “in a way that doesn’t allow the detainees to damage (the refurbishments) as soon as the repairs are finished, like what happened last year.”

When pressed further, the Jackson Police Academy instructor responded that “on Oct. 21, 2020, the previous administration held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate and announce the reopening of C Pod at the Raymond Detention Center. They moved the detainees into the pod that night, but the unit was nowhere near fully staffed. Detainees started a fire in one of the units in the pod that next morning.”

Wall could not confirm that particular incident when the Mississippi Free Press reached out to him on Oct. 11, but said that incidents involving detainees setting fires “is kind of commonplace down there.”

Part of Judge Reeves’ January 2020 stipulated order included two items relating to fires. He gave the county four months, until May 2020, to “reinstall the fire hoses in secured cabinets as part of the renovation process of each pod.” But by July 2021, the order had still not been fulfilled.

“Fire hoses have been installed in C Pod during the renovation,” Simpson wrote. “They have not been reinstalled in the other 2 pods, the renovation of which is now overdue.”

“During the June (2021) remote site visit (as part of her monitoring work), it was finally revealed that the inmate housing areas of the RDC were never equipped with a fire sprinkler system,” she added. “Only certain support areas such as the Kitchen, Medical and Laundry were ever so equipped.”

Simpson also addressed the problem of trash dumpster cells. These are cells not in use that have become places where detainees put trash.

“During the June remote site visit, the Manager for Benchmark Construction followed through on concerns expressed by the Corrections Operations Member of the Monitoring Team regarding ‘trash dumpster cells’ that have been reported on previously,” she wrote. “Those are damaged cells in A-Pod that were welded shut, rather than repaired.”

“Inmates filled them with trash, which served as a breeding ground for vermin.”

By Simpson’s account, only a handful of such cells existed last year, but the number substantially increased this year. She noted that a lack of maintenance hampers the jail.

“All told, 30 such dumpster cells were opened and cleaned,” she wrote. “Eleven were put back in service, while 19 were resealed until repairs can be made.”

“As was stated in the 13th Monitoring Report, the County should designate a line item in the HCSO annual operating budget so that Detention Services can promptly take care of routine maintenance issues,” she concluded. The July monitoring report that Simpson released is the 14th since her appointment.

Dealing Poorly with Rape Incidents

Eric Wall said that the jail still lags in compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act and its prevention and reporting standard. That is item 67 in the consent decree, and Simpson wrote in July that the county is only partially in compliance in that regard.

Simpson said that “several (rape) incident reports indicate the need for additional in-service training, which is complicated by the chronic understaffing.”

Referencing detainee Justin Mosley, who committed suicide by hanging in April at the Hinds County detention center, Simpson said that officials handled him inappropriately.

“The individual who committed suicide on April 18th was being housed in Booking because he had inappropriately touched a female officer,” she wrote. “His actions were clearly inappropriate, but there is no logic to housing him in Booking as a result.”

“This was not a case where he had climbed through the cell door window of C-4 and so could not be contained in segregation,” she added. “This individual was also a seriously mentally ill individual, and an Interdisciplinary Team meeting would have been appropriate to consider an appropriate response to his behavior.”

Booking holding cells are there to hold detainees for a maximum of eight hours, but, according to Simpson, they have been used to “house problematic inmates for many years, because cell doors and locks in the housing units at the RDC were/are inoperable.”

“In spite of the efforts of the Monitoring Team to end this practice, and the assurances of the (Hinds County Sheriff’s Office) that it would, inmates continue to be housed for extensive periods of time in Booking holding cells that are not supposed to confine a detainee for more than eight hours,” she said. “Unfortunately, the practice has resulted in an unmanageable inmate, who could not be effectively controlled in (House Unit) C-4 being moved to Booking for housing.”

“He (Mosley) subsequently committed suicide there,” she added. “As a result, one officer was fired, and another was suspended for 15 days because they did not monitor and conduct 15-minute well-being checks as required.”

Simpson calls for the end of using Booking for long-term housing or inmates.

“As noted in the 13th Monitoring Report, Booking was also being used to house alleged victims of PREA violations, and one of those individuals is still there months later,” she said. Simpson did not name the individual.

Wall is aware of the demands of ensuring the detainees are safe from sexual harassment but said that the jail needs more resources.

“If someone gets raped, if they go to the hospital, if they go to the infirmary, and it comes up and we didn’t make a report, that (becomes a) problem,” he said. “We gotta be an open book.”

“And then there’s just an issue when you have men in one setting, and mental illness kicks in, (and) some men sell themselves in the jail for extra meals or extra commissary,” he added. “That just takes place; some men make themselves out as male prostitutes in the jail.”

“So we have to try to stay on that and do the very best that we can to keep rape down in the jail.”

Short Staffed and Poorly Managed

When confronted with the information that detainees damage the jail after repairs, Wall ascribed the problem to staff shortages. He said that in the last 20 months, the department has continued to suffer attrition.

Former Sheriff Vance told this reporter in August that they had employed scores of people since the inception of his administration in January 2020. Half did not continue.

“So even though we’ve hired 156, we still are 40 short, but that’s a whole lot better than it was when we took office, a whole lot better,” Vance said.

Sheriff’s candidate Green said that she will solve the retention problem if she becomes sheriff by asking the Hinds County Board of Supervisors to approve increasing the salary of detention officers to $30,000 per year. She said it is presently $21,800 a year.

Wall also attributed the poor retention rate to low pay and added that poor working conditions because of the dysfunctional facility have served as another reason for a high resignation rate.

The staff shortage also means that inmates have no time for recreation because of a lack of supervision.

“If they say that you want an entire cell block or a pod out for recreation at one time, that’s hard to achieve if you know that you need five people in that cell block in order to do a total recreation call,” Wall said. “When you don’t have anything but three people working, you only can let so many out at one time because there’s just too many for three people to try to control.”

“And I just used that number (as an example),” he added. “When the number of your staff is low, there are certain things that you can’t do.”

Wall said that the recreation time is usually the opportunity for the detainees to come out of their cells and play different sports like basketball, checkers or watch television. The consent decree requires that detainees have at least five hours of outdoor recreation per week.

Sheriff candidate Spooner said personnel shortage has become more of a problem as the years have gone by.

“When we first opened it up, we had plenty of personnel to work, but as time went by, personnel got shorter and shorter,” he said. “It’s a lot harder to maintain the level of staffing that you need to actually run the jail.”

He suggested a more aggressive recruiting drive with improved salaries.

“You’ve got to make the salary comparable to some of the surrounding agencies, you know, to keep people here working so they don’t go to other departments.” The City of Jackson last year increased the base salary of police officers from $26,000 to $30,000.

Federal Receivership May Force Change

Wall said that the risk of the Department of Justice for noncompliance with the consent decree is real and urgent.

“We’ve gotten close to takeovers now, I tell you. They’ve not been happy, and all the federal judge has to do is just say we’re going to go into what they call receivership,” he said.

The buck literally stops with the Hinds County Board of Supervisors. In the takeover scenario, the federal government would force the board of supervisors to shell out whatever amount of money needed to put the jail in order. But the elected supervisors are not eager to discuss the problems, or potential solutions.

When the Mississippi Free Press reached out to Board of Supervisors President Credell Calhoun last week for comments on the consent decree, he directed this reporter to the Board attorney Tony Gaylor, who replied in an email on Wednesday, Oct. 6. “We always send the press to the County Administrator’s office first. Can you contact Mr. Kenneth Wayne Jones, our County Administrator? I have copied him on this correspondence,” he wrote.

Since last week, Hinds County Administrator Kenneth Wayne Jones did not return calls or respond to an email that the Mississippi Free Press sent to his office. This reporter also went to his office and left a message with the receptionist on Thursday, Oct. 14, after saying he was in a meeting. He still has not responded to those inquiries.

Interim Sheriff Crisler said that the risk goes further than just a takeover of the jail system. He said it also means 80% of the employees would lose their jobs. He is also running in the special sheriff election on Nov. 2.

“My number-one priority is to get the Raymond Detention Center from underneath the consent decree that has been handed down by the Department of Justice,” he said in a Sept. 13 phone interview, explaining that a new jail facility is on the table and that architectural designs are awaiting approval. But how to pay for it, or better management, is unclear.

“So we’re right now seeking the necessary monetary resources in order to be able to build a new jail,” Crisler said. “That is something that we are attempting to develop in the coming years.”

Spooner also joined the call for a new county jail as a way to put the troubles of the Raymond facility behind. He believes the facility’s problem has only grown worse.

Candidate Torrence Mayfield, who has had to deal with the Hinds County Detention Center as a former Edwards police chief, wants a new jail more than anything else.

“You have to stop putting money into a dilapidated facility,” he said in a Sept. 13 phone interview. “RDC, which is Raymond Detention Center, for the past eight or nine years, money is continuing to be (poured) into that facility.”

“That facility is beyond structural repair,” Mayfield added. “We’re going to have to acquire a new facility to house inmates.”

Former Hinds County Sheriff Lee Vance, who became sheriff in January 2020, died in August after testing positive for COVID-19, necessitating a special election. The winner in the November election will serve the remaining part of Vance’s term before another term begins in 2024, and the management of the detention center will be a primary concern with the county facing a federal takeover threat due to unresolved safety problems it has given the county several years to fix.

A nonpartisan Nov. 2 special election for Hinds County Sheriff will feature 13 candidates:

Interim Hinds County Sheriff Marshand Crisler, former Hinds County Sheriff Chief Deputy of Operations Eric Wall, former Hinds County Investigation Division Captain Tyree Jones, Deputy Les Tannehill, University of Mississippi Medical Center police officer Cheryl Matory, retired FBI agent Beverly Harris-Williams, Jackson Police Department Police Academy instructor Colendula Green, former Hinds County deputies Ather West and Reginald Thompson, Hinds County District 4 Constable Leon Seals, Jackson Police Department Officer Brandon Caston and former Town of Edwards Police Chief Torrence Mayfield and former Hinds County Deputy Richard Spooner.

This story originally appeared in the Mississippi Free Press. The Mississippi Free Press is a statewide nonprofit news outlet that provides most of its stories free to other media outlets to republish. Write [email protected] for information.

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