On April 13, 2022, U.S. Southern District of Mississippi Judge Carlton Reeves terminated the 64-page federal consent decree and issued an injunction for the Hinds County Detention Center. The next day, April 14, 2022, Sheriff Tyree Jones held a press conference to address this turn of events.
“This is a step forward and this is a step in the right direction,” says Sheriff Jones.
The detention center has been under the consent decree since 2016. In November 2021, Judge Reeves issued an Order to Show Cause (OSC), stating that the detention center had failed to fix its “unconstitutional conditions.”
“It is now 2021. Much has changed in the world, the United States, the state of Mississippi, and even in Hinds County. The unconstitutional conditions have not been remediated – they have no end in sight, in fact. And the county’s failure to remedy the conditions has caused ‘needless suffering and death.’ including six deaths so far this year,” Reeves wrote.
On January 21, 2022, the county filed a motion, using the Prison Litigation Reform Act, to ask the federal courts to lift or amend the consent decree. On February 14, 2022, hearings began to determine if the detention center would remain under the control of the county or be taken over by the federal government through receivership.
At the time of the hearings, which ended March 1, 2022, the detention center was 68% in compliance with the consent decree, according to Hinds County attorney James Shelson. The county has made updates to the detention center since late 2020. The detention center’s C-Pod was upgraded and reopened, including replaced locks on the doors. Similar upgrades were made to the B-Pod. However, Jones stated during the press conference that he testified during the hearings that A-Pod is unsafe, and they are looking at ways to make the environment safe and secure.
At this time, Sheriff Jones stated,“We’re not at a point right now where there has been a final ruling regarding the outcome of the trial, but we are moving forward.”
The steps towards moving forward include the injunction that Judge Reeves issued. It spells out 18 areas of concern that the sheriff’s department has to continue to navigate and comply with, Sheriff Jones noted at the press conference. The new document has now been scaled back to 10 pages of stipulations.
“I believe we have the right administration in place, regarding the detention center, as well as our interim jail administrator [and former jail warden] Mr. Frank Shaw. He’s on board and he has been working diligently with us regarding our detention facilities and the conditions and some of the things that we must continue to address on a day-to-day basis,” said Jones.
Other improvements include pay raises, which have been approved for the sheriff’s department with a starting salary of $31,000. Jones noted that this will aid the department in being competitive with other agencies in the area. The department has hired between 25 to 30 personnel over the course of his term and he is working on a step plan to retain those officers.
Sheriff Jones also said that he does have a plan in place and will shed light on some of the new projects and upgrades when they are complete (due to security concerns), including breaking ground on the new jail.