On May 3, 1993, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) notified Harrison County, Mississippi of its intention to investigate conditions of the county jail under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), 42 U.S.C. 1997 et seq. Following the investigation, the DOJ sent a letter notifying the president of the Harrison County Board of Supervisors of its findings. The DOJ found there were too few staffed officers per inmates and significant deficiencies in the officers' training. These underlying problems lead to excessive discipline of inmates, lack of access to legal materials, and unsecured dangerous objects, including kitchen knives and prescription medication. The DOJ also found the suicide prevention program, as well as general medical and mental health care of the inmates, to be inadequate. The DOJ findings letter then made recommendations as to the minimum remedial measure needed to meet constitutional standards.
Negotiations led to settlement; the Attorney General filed a CRIPA action against the jail on January 6, 1995. Although it is not mentioned in the docket sheet, presumably the parties provided the court with their proposed consent decree. Six days later, Judge Walter J. Gex III approved a consent decree, which laid out steps the county must take to improve issues discussed in the DOJ's letter of findings and recommendations.
The consent decree mandated that the county double the number of officers per shift, have a female officer on duty at all times. The officers were to have 80 hours of training before starting their employment, with 40 hours of training per year thereafter. The decree prohibited using the 'strip cells', or cells without amenities, to house inmates. The county was also required to implement procedures that identified and properly stored dangerous materials and open a law library that was accessible at least eight hours a day, five days a week. For medical care, the county agreed to hire a medical professional and to both screen and monitor the inmates health. The county also agreed to hire a psychologist on at least a half-time basis and develop a suicide prevention program. The county was given one year to be in compliance with this decree.
On November 4, 1996, the county sheriff submitted a report, claiming substantial compliance with the consent decree. On April 15, 1999, the case was placed on the inactive docket of the court.
In 2000 two inmates from the county jail sent the court letters claiming the constitutional rights were continuing to be violated. The court dismissed these petitions, but the county jail restarted submitting status reports regarding the conditions of the jail.
On May 28, 2003, the DOJ filed a motion for an order to show cause why defendants should not be held in contempt for failure to comply with the 1995 consent decree. On March 23, 2004, Judge Walter J. Gex III held a hearing regarding the motion. Judge Gex ultimately determined to stay the issue of contempt, predicated on the defendants' agreement to allocate funds towards the jail and hire certain numbers of additional staff to address the concerns raised in the DOJ's motion. This defendants were also required to continue to file status reports regarding the facility quarterly.
Throughout the next ten years, Judge Walter J. Gex III issued several minute orders requiring the defendants to be more thorough in their status reports.
On May 9, 2014, the case was reassigned to Chief District Judge Louis Guirola, Jr.
On August 11, 2015, the parties filed a joint motion for dismissal, citing increased physician, psychiatrist, and mental health staffing; the creation of a chronic care program; and implementation of new auditing and quality assurance mechanisms. In the motion, the defendants stated that they would continue to use their best efforts to make progress in their auditing, their peer review of medical services, policies and practices, and to appoint a specific representative for persons with mental illnesses whose job would be to advocate for alternatives to institutionalization and seek funding for mental health services.
Judge Louis Guirola, Jr. terminated the 1995 consent decree and dismissed the case with prejudice the next day. Kristen Sagar - 06/04/2007