Justice Department Finds That Hinds County, Mississippi, Fails to Protect Prisoners from Harm and Detains Prisoners Beyond Court-Ordered Release Dates
Today, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division announced that it has completed its investigation of the Hinds County Adult Detention Center and the Jackson City Detention Center and issued a letter of findings that determined that Hinds County, Mississippi, violates prisoners’ constitutional rights at both jail facilities. The department found that the jail facilities fail to protect prisoners from violence by other prisoners and from improper use of force by staff. The department also found that the jail facilities detain prisoners beyond court-ordered release dates.
Systemic deficiencies contribute to serious harm and risk of harm at the jail facilities. In the past three years, at least three major riots occurred, resulting in one prisoner’s death and the closing of entire housing units. The department also documented rampant prisoner-on-prisoner violence, including an additional prisoner-on-prisoner homicide and a remarkable volume of contraband. The department found systemic deficiencies in staffing; policies and training; security and classification procedures; physical plant and maintenance; contraband control; and administrative review and other accountability measures to prevent, detect and investigate improper uses of force.
The department found that in an effort to address staffing and security concerns, Hinds County has locked down and otherwise improperly housed prisoners—severely limiting or eliminating access to treatment, education, exercise and visitation. The department noted that juvenile prisoners and prisoners with mental illness are acutely harmed by the lockdowns. One prisoner, who could neither speak nor hear, had been living in a cramped, dark booking cell with a reeking toilet for nearly three years.
The department also found that inadequate staffing and training, a backlog in record filing, and a lack of centralized information have resulted in prisoners being held beyond court-ordered release dates. The delays, most of which were between one and ten days, arose in a variety of circumstances, including after judges ordered prisoners released for lack of probable cause, for lack of prosecution, after adjudication of a guilty plea, and after requisite contempt fines had been paid. The longest period of over-detention—70 days—was for a 13-year-old middle school student, who was held a total of 173 days at the jail facilities without an indictment. The department also voiced concern that delays in indicting prisoners, obtaining forensic mental health review, and bringing cases to trial may lead to unnecessary and prolonged incarceration, draining much-needed resources from the jail facilities.
“Hinds County Adult Detention Center and the Jackson City Detention Center are facilities in crisis,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division. “Making these facilities safe will require broad systemic reforms and a local commitment to improve staffing and operations. The jail facilities play an integral part in the county’s criminal justice system, and it will take cooperation between everyone involved to make the changes needed. The Civil Rights Division looks forward to working with county officials to bring these facilities into compliance with constitutional standards.”
“The Hinds County detention facilities have an obligation to provide conditions of confinement that do not offend the Constitution,” said U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis of the Southern District of Mississippi. “This office will work with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice to address and remedy the violations revealed by the investigation.”
The department’s investigation involved in-depth review and analysis of documents, including policies and procedures, incident reports, grievances, legal complaints and grand jury inspection reports. The department also interviewed jail administrators, staff, prisoners, county officials and various criminal justice stakeholders.
The Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) authorizes the department to seek a remedy for a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the constitutional rights of persons confined in a jail, prison or other correctional facility. The Attorney General may initiate a lawsuit pursuant to CRIPA forty-nine days after issuance of the findings letter to correct deficiencies identified in the letter if county officials have not satisfactorily addressed the concerns.
The department commends county officials and jail facilities staff for their cooperation and receptivity to the department’s concerns and looks forward to continuing to work with them in a collaborative manner to resolve the department’s findings expeditiously and under mutually agreeable terms.
For more information on the Civil Rights Division, please visit www.justice.gov/crt.