Mississippi county balks at oversight for troubled jail
A judge found "ongoing unconstitutional conditions," including short staffing levels that allowed some inmates to assault others
By Emily Wagster Pettus
JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi's largest county says it will appeal a federal judge's appointment of a public safety consultant to manage its jail where the judge found “ongoing unconstitutional conditions," including short staffing levels that allowed some inmates to assault others.
Hinds County is asking U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves to delay work by the receiver he appointed to oversee the Raymond Detention Center, according to federal court papers the county filed Thursday.
Attorneys representing Hinds County wrote that delaying the appointment of the receiver during its appeal “is in the public interest because the Receiver is utterly unaccountable to the voters and taxpayers of Hinds County.”
Reeves is scheduled to hold a Nov. 28 hearing on the county's request.
On Oct. 31, Reeves appointed Wendell M. France Sr. to improve conditions at the jail outside Jackson. France is a public safety consultant, former correctional administrator and 27-year member of the Baltimore Police Department.
The receiver is to be paid $16,000 a month, but Hinds County argues the expense will take money away from other services such as roads, bridges and schools.
“The Receiver’s staggering budgetary authority could bankrupt the County, force the County to defund other legitimate funding needs, or raise taxes,” the county's attorneys wrote in the court filing Thursday.
On July 29, Reeves put the jail into receivership after citing poor conditions. The judge said deficiencies in supervision and staffing lead to “a stunning array of assaults, as well as deaths.” Seven people died last year while detained at the jail, he said.
Reeves wrote that cell doors did not lock and a lack of lighting in cells made life “miserable for the detainees who live there and prevents guards from adequately surveilling detainees.” He also said guards sometimes slept instead of monitoring the cameras in the control room.
France began transitioning into his role as receiver Nov. 1, but he is not scheduled to have full operational control over the jail until Jan. 1. According to the terms of the receivership, France has 120 days from his appointment to develop a draft plan to improve conditions at the jail.