On May 21, 2015, the United State Department of Justice (DOJ), Civil Rights Division, completed an investigation into Hinds County, Mississippi, over conditions in various detention facilities operated by the county: the Hinds County Adult Detention Facility and Work Center in Raymond, and the Jackson Detention Center in Jackson. The DOJ found that the facilities were chronically understaffed, that staff were not adequately trained or supervised, and that the facilities were poorly designed and ill-maintained. Those staff in turn failed to supervise detainees with a history of violence, mental illness, or suicide attempts, and routinely subjected detainees to excessive force. They further failed to adequately separate high risk detainees from young detainees, female detainees, mentally disabled detainees, and other vulnerable detainees.
As a result, detainees faced serious harm or risk of harm from other detainees and staff, including three riots, as well as unjustified use of TASERs, canines, and corporal punishment against detainees by staff. Additionally, Hinds County failed to provide detainees with timely access to exercise, treatment programs, and legal services. The lack of access to legal services, along with Hind County’s failure to keep accurate records for detainees, in turn resulted in many detainees being held for longer periods of time without adequate legal justification.
On June 23, 2016, the DOJ filed a complaint against Hinds County based on the findings in its report in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. The DOJ alleged that Hinds County had violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of the detainees housed in the Hinds County Adult Detention Facility, the Hinds County Work Center, and the Jackson Detention Center. The DOJ asked Judge William Henry Barbour Jr., the district court judge assigned to the case, for declaratory and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. 1997. Specifically, the DOJ asked Judge Barbour to declare that Hinds County’s practices and policies violated the constitutional rights of detainees at the facilities that the DOJ had investigated, and to issue a permanent injunction ordering Hinds County to amend its practices and policies to avoid violating the constitutional rights of detainees at those facilities in the future.
On the same day that they filed their complaint, the DOJ and Hinds County filed a joint settlement motion. In the settlement agreement, Hinds County admited that its policies and practices had violated the rights of detainees and agreed to change those practices and policies to prevent violations of detainees’ rights in the future. To that end, Hinds County agreed to implement a comprehensive list of reforms, including: increased supervision of prison staff and detainees; improved training for prison staff, particularly in regards to appropriate use of force; improved incident reporting and investigation; no longer detaining detainees without adequate legal justification, particularly in regards to detention for failing to pay legal fines; and notifying mental health professionals of the release of detainees with mental illness to facilitate their transitions back into society.
Hinds County also agreed to create a Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, which will be charged with exploring ways to keep youth and mentally ill persons in Hinds County out of the Hinds County legal system. The Committee will include representatives from the Hinds County Board of Supervisors and Hinds County Sheriff’s office. Hinds County is also to seek additional representation from: the Jackson Police Department and other Jackson City officials; the Mississippi Department of Mental Health; the Mississippi Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Youth Services; Hinds County judges; the Hinds County District Attorney’s Office; the Hinds County Public Defender’s Office; and private advocates or other interested community member.
The settlement agreement requires that Hinds County enact all of its provision within a year of the effective date of the agreement. Compliance with the settlement agreement will be monitored by a third-party monitor agreed upon by the DOJ and Hinds County. The monitor is to have full access to facilities, records, and detainees of the Hinds County Adult Detention Center, Hinds County Work Center, and Jackson Detention Center, along with the full cooperation of Hinds County employees, contractors, and Agents at those facilities. Hinds County is also required to designate a full-time Compliance Coordinator to work with the monitor. In the event of non-compliance with the agreement, the District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi retains jurisdiction to enforce the agreement at the request of the aggrieved party. To that end, the DOJ and Hinds County have asked the court to approve the settlement agreement, which the court has not yet done as of July 5, 2016.Ryan Berry - 07/05/2016