Hinds County Supervisor Robert Graham said it will be up to the entire board to determine whether the Jackson Detention Center would close, following a report from federal officials.
Recently, federal officials recommended shuttering the downtown facility, in large part, to address staffing concerns at the Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond.
“We have several different options as to what we can do with the downtown jail and Raymond jail,” Graham, who represents District One, said. “One reason they’re recommending closing the downtown jail is not due to the conditions, per se, but the fact that the sheriff’s department doesn’t have enough people to run the Raymond jail.”
Graham was referring to the number of correction facility officers. Federal officials recommend having 275 correction officers. To date, though, the county has just 231, the Clarion-Ledger reported.
“Federal monitors have recommended a certain (number), but we can’t give the job away,” Graham said. “It’s a very difficult job where you’re dealing with the worst people in society and most people don’t want to do that for $2,600 a month.”
Last week, about 99 inmates were housed at the downtown location, while 500 or so were housed in Raymond.
Graham said if the downtown location is closed, the majority of the prisoners would go to Raymond, while youths housed there would go to the Henley-Young Juvenile Detention Center.
Graham said it was too early to tell whether the board would vote to close downtown and didn’t know when a decision would be made.
He supports repurposing the center and using it as a holding facility for the city of Jackson.
“That would eliminate them (the Jackson Police Department) from having to carry inmates to Raymond four or five times a day,” he said.
Monitors inspect the county’s jail system to ensure the county is working to implement a federal consent decree.
The county entered into the decree in 2016 and agreed to implement “a series of reforms across various stages of the criminal justice system,” according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Reforms included making physical improvements to the Raymond and downtown Jackson holding facilities, increasing staffing and training for staffing, improving mental health and youth services and increasing access to medical care, treatments and screenings for prisoners with special needs or serious illnesses.
The recommendations were made to help bring the county’s detention centers into compliance with CRIPA, the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act. Federal investigators descended on the county about a year after riots shut down a portion of the Raymond detention center.
Two years later, the county has spent millions of dollars to upgrade the jails. “Basically, we’ve retrofitted everything in the jail – added new lighting, new air conditioning and heating units, modified the doors and locking mechanisms and increased staffing,” Graham said.
“They said that (staffing) was the most critical piece. They have to have enough eyeballs and people to watch what’s going on.”
Graham said increasing staff numbers, though, is difficult in large part because of low pay and tough working conditions.
Detention center personnel make $2,600 a month, or $31,200 a year, up from $1,800 a month four years ago.
Correction officers in the county make about $1,800 more a year than the mean wage in Mississippi, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but about $16,000 less than the national mean.