View Full Version : More judges, facilities considered

08-03-2005, 08:28 PM
August 3, 2005

More judges, facilities considered By Jerry Mitchell (

The Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond is overflowing again, this time for a different reason.

Before Doug Jones was hired as a court facilitator in August 2003, "the jail was full of unindicted, pretrial defendants," said Hinds County Sheriff Malcolm McMillin. "Now we have a jail full of indicted, pretrial defendants."

The inmate population has risen recently as high as 635 beyond the 594 limit prompting prisoner rights lawyer Ron Welch to file a notice of "court order violations and request for immediate and continuing full compliance."
The overflowing jail is causing officials to suggest possible solutions, from building another jail to hiring more prosecutors and judges all of which cost money and all of which would need approval. The Hinds Board of Supervisors would have to approve a jail; the state Legislature, more judges.

The crowded jail comes as Jackson Mayor Frank Melton has vowed to lock up those wanted by police and those with unpaid fines, now totaling $40 million. "I have 81,000 outstanding warrants, 320 of them felonies," he said. "If they were arrested, I wouldn't have a place to put them."

Melton will spend the next 30 days trying to find a temporary jail to house at least 150, he said. "The city has enough abandoned buildings to house prisoners."

Those who owe money could help work off fines by cleaning up the city, he said, "but I'm not going to do an amnesty."

Melton said he plans to run any possible jail past Welch.

The Jackson lawyer said there could be problems with a temporary jail because under a 1995 court order that included an agreement between the city and county, the city got out of the jail construction business in return for lowering its millage and letting Hinds County take on the task. That amounted to $180,000 at the time.

For the past several years, Jackson police have been using the former Youth Detention Center on Silas Brown Street as a holding facility. On June 10, Welch wrote a letter to then-City Attorney Terry Wallace, asking the city to stop using the facility that suffers from live wires, a leaky roof, asbestos and dark hallways where guards can't see.

In his June visit, Welch said he saw evidence inmates were chained together on the ground next to one another: "People get killed that way."

When he asked an officer about this, he said the officer replied, "We don't have any lockdown cells."

As a result of jail crowding, Hinds County is keeping those convicted of misdemeanors at the penal farm. On Monday, 104 of the 212 inmates being held there were city inmates convicted of misdemeanors.

The older section of that penal farm "is the worst dungeon," Welch said. "It's among the worst jail conditions in the state of Mississippi."

If these types of problems persist, Welch said he has no choice but to seek to have the city and county found in contempt.

Welch said he views Melton's election as a mandate from Jackson citizens to work with Hinds County to build a jail.

"There may be a need for a new jail," said Doug Anderson, president of the Board of Supervisors. "If (city officials) were to come in and see if we could form an agreement for new beds or a new jail, we'd entertain the idea."

In the past, he said, the city has refused to pay anything to the county, citing the 1995 agreement between the city and county.

Anderson said he doesn't know how much money the county has received from this agreement, but said it's nowhere close to paying the city's portion.

"That was for the construction of the jail," Anderson said. "That wasn't for everything."

He's confident city and county officials can work something out, he said. "We have confidence in the new mayor, Frank Melton. I foresee us getting off to a great start."

Welch said he'd be happy to work with officials toward any jail solution.

The sheriff said, "You don't have to be a nuclear physicist to realize what we have here is not enough judges and not enough prosecutors."

There are only two ways to deal with the current problem expand the jail or speed up the system, the sheriff said. "I don't see a sudden decrease in crime. At best, it stays at the same level."

Hinds County Senior Circuit Judge W. Swan Yerger said the idea of adding judges isn't as simple or as cheap as it sounds.

Judges' salaries are funded by the state, he said. With the state in a fiscal crisis, additional funding seems unlikely.

Each judge also needs a court reporter, a court administrator and two bailiffs, he said. In addition, each judge would need a courtroom and office space, "which we don't have," he said. "We're filled to the brim."

Mississippi has a rule requiring defendants to be tried within 270 days of indictment.

Despite the jail overflowing, the rule hasn't caused prosecutors problems, said Chief Assistant District Attorney Robert H. Taylor Jr. "It is not invoked in cases where a case is bumped by an older case, or when the defendant or both parties request a continuance."

He sees less problems now because prosecutors are now trying cases in the same year they were indicted something inconceivable in previous years, he said. "Of course, 2005 cases are being pleaded, but trying one in the same calendar year is lightning speed."

He said he sympathizes with the sheriff's situation, although "he never sympathizes with ours. To address his problems for the moment, I would suggest a larger detention center and more judges."

The truth is that jails fill up, he said. "If you were to triple the size of the Raymond detention center, in 18 months we would be having this same discussion."

He said he believes there's enough space "for the truly dangerous and the true flight risks." Because space is so limited, "some painful choices" will have to be made, he said. "If we have one jail bed available, who should have it? The serial rapist or the fine defaulter? That seems like a simple choice, but years of such choices teaches us it is not simple at all. ... There is no magic bullet."