Vanita Gupta, U.S. DOJ civil-rights division chief Credit: U.S. Department of Education

After more than a year of negotiations and federal scrutiny of conditions at Hinds County’s jails, the Department of Justice and county have reached a settlement.

In a news release, the Justice Department said the “landmark settlement” would reform the criminal justice system in the state’s most populous county.

“Across the board, this settlement will make the Hinds County criminal justice system smarter and fairer,” said Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in a statement.

“If implemented, these reforms will make pretrial detainees, prisoners, corrections staff and the entire community safer, while also ensuring that vulnerable individuals get access to the treatment, care and community services they need and deserve. We commend the county for its commitment to making these reforms a reality,” she said.

In its statement, Justice calls the settlement “the first of its kind to incorporate broader criminal justice system reform through diversion at the front end and reentry to the community after incarceration.”

The settlement aims to improve safety for both prisoners and employees by requiring better training and staffing, fixing cell doors and security cameras and implementing a classification system based on prisoners’ security-threat levels.

U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis of the Southern District of Mississippi said the jail “posed a serious challenge to law enforcement and the safety of our community.”

Hinds County jails consist of a facility in downtown Jackson that is connected to the county courthouse as well as a detention center in Raymond.

These facilities have been beset with problems for years.

In addition to wear-and-tear on the more than 20-year-old Raymond jail, the facility has been the location of escapes, riots and other kinds of violence.

On Thursday, two capital-murder suspects escaped from the facility.

A 2012 riot rendered one of the housing pods unusable for more than a year. In 2013, jailers found a prisoner, Larry McLaurin, beaten to death in his cell; his cellmate, Elton McClaurin was charged with capital murder. Both men battled mental illness.

In 2014, another riot resulted in the death of a 21-year-old-man named Markuieze Bennett. Later that year, in May 2014, the DOJ issued an investigative report detailing many of these incidents and numerous other problems with the jail and criminal-justice system as a whole, which touched off consent-decree negotiations.

The consent decree, which U.S. District Judge William Barbour will oversee, also requires wider access to services for special-needs prisoners, including children and adults.

It also seeks to improve mental healthcare by working with local community mental-health services. The order also ensures that individuals’ due-process rights are protected, including the right to have a speedy trial.

If the agreement is approved by the federal district court, an independent monitor will be appointed to make regular visits to the jails and assess the county’s compliance with the settlement.

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Ryan L. Nave, a native of University City, Mo., served as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief from May 2018 until April 2020. Ryan began his career with Mississippi Today February 2016 as an original member of the editorial team. He became news editor August 2016. Ryan has a bachelor’s in political science from the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked for Illinois Times and served as news editor for the Jackson Free Press.

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