County officials say there has been positive progress at the Raymond Detention Center, and the consent decree that the jail is currently under should be lifted.
Two months ago, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves issued an order saying that the county had failed to remedy “unconstitutional conditions” at the jail. He set a deadline of three weeks for officials to convince him the jail should not be put under federal control. In a strongly worded letter, Reeves addressed several concerns, including severe staffing shortages, inadequate medical and mental health care for detainees, the presence of drugs and contraband, cell doors that do not lock, and over-use of chemical sprays to control inmates.
“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.
Sheriff Tyree Jones, who took office last month, says he doesn’t see much movement on this issue until next month’s trial date.
“We’re in a holding pattern. Paperwork has been filed. We are in what I would consider full litigation,” he said.
County officials say they are now in compliance with at least 70% of the consent decree mandates. In a motion filed last week, they point to efforts such as approving a 5% pay raise for detention center workers, enrolling command staff-in-training to obtain national certification, and hiring a full-time mental health nurse practitioner and a new health services administrator. A bi-monthly cadet class is also being offered for prospective employees.
“We’ve moved the needle with the consent decree. We’re on the offensive side of the decree. The majority of it has been fulfilled. But as you know, that was filed years ago,” he said. “Following the decree came the stipulated order which I would consider a shorter form, but it had mandates as well and is more accurate and up-to-date.”
Jones says right now there are two issues that need to be addressed immediately. One of them is the facility itself and the other is personnel. He says there were many positive things he saw when he stepped in on day one, such as the security of the detainees. But staffing, he says, has been an ongoing problem.
“We need detention officers! How are we going to be able to recruit and retain good, quality, certified people to work? You’re going to have to pay them,” he said. “When you look at the salaries throughout the region, we have the lowest paid officers in the biggest county. We need to bring these men and women up to a better pay scale.”
Jones says talks are ongoing. He says he feels comfortable that the county will be able to find the funds to raise the salaries of those employed as well as offer better starting salaries to potential employees.
Another one of the ways they are getting compliant, Jones says, is cracking down with consistent shakedowns. On Friday, he said deputies were tipped off about contraband in the jail, recovering drugs and cell phones.
“When it comes to doing sweeps, you can do random sweeps, you can do sweeps based on evidence, or you can do sweeps based on investigations. There was an outside investigation being conducted and we received credible info that there was contraband in certain parts of our facility,” he said. “Anytime we can go in and recover contraband, that’s for the safety of the employees and the detainees.”
The case is currently set to be heard on February 14 in the Southern District Court.