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A critical lack of staff. Major jail maintenance issues. More and more youth being put in isolation as a disciplinary measure.
These were among the problems found by a court monitor’s report released earlier this month, showing that two years after Hinds County entered a federal agreement to reform its jails, the county is making insufficient progress.
Following a site visit in May, court monitor Elizabeth E. Simpson found the county noncompliant on two-thirds of 92 requirements stipulated by the 2016 agreement between the county and the U.S. Department of Justice.
The initial settlement between the Department of Justice and Hinds County focused on pretrial issues, requiring the county to establish a criminal justice coordinating committee and to resolve safety, health and staffing issues in its Jackson and Raymond-based jails as well as the Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center.
Hinds County is also under a federal consent decree, which stemmed from a 2011 lawsuit, to improve conditions specifically within Henley-Young.
Following the DOJ settlement, the county began to transition all children charged as adults to Henley-Young, as opposed to housing juvenile detainees in an adult facility. According to the report, though placing youths at Henley-Young is “a vast improvement” over housing them in the Raymond jail, Henley-Young has now seen an uptick in behavioral issues among juveniles charged as adults, as well as a growing use of isolation to address those issues.
“Many of the recommendations contained in prior reports and/or requirements of the Settlement Agreement have not been implemented, so it is not surprising that the hopes of a successful transition are running into the reality of dealing with older, long-term youth,” Simpson wrote in the Aug. 1 report.
In the report, Simpson also noted that the county continues to detain people for over 90 days without an indictment.
That issue recently launched a dispute pitting District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith against Hinds Circuit Court Judge Tomie Green when the D.A. accused Green of releasing violent crime suspects without notifying his office, leading Green to respond that both agreements “reveal constitutional violations resulting from delays in securing timely indictments and timely disposition of cases by prosecutors,” she said in a statement.
The report did take note of “significant and quite meaningful advances” toward mental health services, including better defined evaluation processes and more consistent evaluations and treatment.
Per the original settlement, Hinds County must maintain “substantial compliance” with the agreement for at least two years.
Hinds County Sheriff Victor Mason, whose office oversees the daily operations of the detention center, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A status conference for the ongoing agreement is set for Aug. 29 in Biloxi.