Filed Date: June 23, 2016
Clearinghouse coding complete
On May 21, 2015, the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) completed an investigation into Hinds County, Mississippi, over conditions at the Hinds County Adult Detention Facility and Work Center in Raymond (RDC) 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. Facility 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 Hinds County's failure to keep accurate records for detainees, in turn resulted in many detainees being held without adequate legal justification.
On June 23, 2016, based on the findings in its report, the DOJ filed this lawsuit against Hinds County in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. The DOJ alleged that the 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 the court (Judge William Henry Barbour Jr.) for declaratory and injunctive relief under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997 (CRIPA). 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 issue a permanent injunction ordering Hinds County to amend its policies and practices to avoid violating the constitutional rights of detainees at those facilities in the future.
The parties had already negotiated a settlement during the DOJ investigation. On the same day the complaint was filed, the DOJ and Hinds County filed a joint settlement motion. In the settlement agreement, Hinds County admitted that its policies and practices had violated the rights of detainees and agreed to amend them to prevent violations of detainees' rights in the future. To that end, Hinds County agreed to implement a comprehensive list of reforms, including: increasing supervision of prison staff and detainees; improving training for prison staff, particularly in regards to appropriate use of force; improving incident reporting and investigation; ceasing detention of individuals without adequate legal justification, particularly for failure to pay 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 would be charged with exploring ways to keep youth and mentally ill persons in Hinds County out of the County’s legal system. The Committee would include representatives from the Hinds County Board of Supervisors and Hinds County Sheriff's office. Hinds County was 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 members.
The settlement agreement required that Hinds County implement all of its provisions within a year of the effective date of the agreement. Compliance with the agreement would be monitored by a third-party monitor agreed upon by the DOJ and Hinds County. The monitor was 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 was also required to designate a full-time Compliance Coordinator to work with the monitor. In the event of non-compliance with the agreement, the court retained jurisdiction to enforce the agreement at the request of the aggrieved party.
After the parties jointly stipulated that the defendant had substantially complied with the settlement agreement for two years, the court could order termination of the agreement. Alternatively, the defendant could unilaterally move for dismissal, but had the burden of showing substantial implementation of the agreement. The court approved the settlement agreement on July 19, 2016. The monitor submitted periodic status reports to the court.
On February 17, 2017, the court determined that significant progress had been made toward compliance, but that certain requirements still had not been met. On August 1, 2018, the monitor filed their fifth status report. Though the monitor noted meaningful progress, particularly with the medical and mental health evaluation processes, the detention facilities were still non-compliant with the settlement agreement.
The case was reassigned to District Judge Carlton Reeves on December 17, 2018. Status reports and compliance updates continued. On June 24, 2019, the monitor submitted a status report that demonstrated the defendants were still lacking in the area of corrections operations. In all other areas, the court monitor found that there had been improvement, but that the defendants still had much to accomplish before they would be in compliance.
On December 16, 2019, both parties moved for entry of a new settlement. The court granted the joint motion on January 16, 2020, modifying the prior settlement agreement to include additional, more specific, relief in several areas: safety and security of the physical plant, safety and security of staffing, the development and implementation of policies and procedures, and population management.
Around the same time, COVID-19 began to spread throughout the world. The tenth status report, dated March 26, 2020, noted that lack of staffing and impractical policies would hinder an effective response to the virus in Hinds County detention facilities. The report also noted other deficiencies including physical security (detainees were often able to let themselves out of their cells and housing units), fire code noncompliance, and lack of mental health workers. So, it concluded, “progress toward substantial compliance in most of the areas of the Agreement is best described as being ‘on hold’.” But the report did point out that more judges were available for first appearances and the bail schedule had been eliminated.
The eleventh status report, dated August 4, 2020, identified additional problems with the defendants' COVID-19 response. Based on conference and Zoom calls rather than in-person visits, the report cited failures of the jail administration, senior security staff, and the mental and medical health provider to regularly meet together, leading to misinformation. In addition, there was at first a lack of COVID-19 testing. When testing was finally conducted, it was done on a voluntary basis, leading to only 60% of detainees being tested. Several of the tests were positive, and the monitor expressed concern that there might be additional infected detainees in the non-tested population. These concerns were compounded by ineffective quarantine procedures, inadequate staffing, and inadequate testing of staff. On the other hand, the report noted that a reduction in the jail population over the last four years had improved conditions.
Throughout 2020 and 2021, the monitor continued issuing regular reports. While they noted modest progress in complying with the terms of the settlement agreement, the monitor was clear that the jail system suffered from major staffing, facilities, violence, and fire safety issues.
On October 28, 2021, the monitor issued an irregular interim report to inform the court that six people had died in the Hinds County Jail System by that point in 2021. The monitoring team described these developments as "alarming" and raising "serious concerns about the [defendant’s] continued lack of compliance" with the settlement.
Judge Reeves responded to the interim report by issuing an order to show cause why the County should not be held in civil contempt and the RDC placed into federal receivership. 2021 WL 5501442. The order stated that the "unconstitutional conditions [at the RDC] have not been remediated" and there was "no end in sight" to the jail’s problems. On December 14, 2021, the defendants filed their response to the court’s order. They argued that the facts were not sufficient to find the defendants in civil contempt. Further, the defendants asserted mitigating circumstances resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic as affirmative defenses to civil contempt. The defendants also cited the appointment of a new Board of Directors as a reason to delay holding them in civil contempt, instead asking for a new deadline of July 1, 2022 to make more positive change at Hinds County.
On February 4, 2022, Judge Reeves issued an opinion finding the defendants to be in civil contempt of court. The court found that Hinds County was non-compliant with over two dozen provisions in the consent decree across several areas, including protection from harm, use of force supervision and training, lawful basis for detention, and continuous improvement. 2022 WL 348984. The court would later write that it was “disturbed by the record number of assaults, fires, and deaths, including murders, suicides, and overdoses” at the facilities. 2022 WL 4071968.
Meanwhile, on January 21, 2022, the defendants moved to modify or terminate the consent decree, invoking the termination provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). From February 14 through March 1, 2022, the court held evidentiary hearings on its order to show cause and the defendants’ motion to terminate. The court then issued a second order of contempt on March 23, 2022, citing evidence presented at the evidentiary hearing about A-Pod, a section of the detention center in such disrepair that Hinds County had previously promised to evacuate detainees from it. A-Pod continued to be unrenovated, unliveable, and unsupervised, resulting in the murder of a detainee which remained undiscovered for nine hours, as well as numerous other instances of violence and gang oppression. 2022 WL 879696.
On April 5, 2022, the monitor issued their sixteenth status report. The report noted some changes in compliance but overall found little improvement since previous site visits.
On April 13, 2022, the district court granted in part and denied in part the defendants’ motion to terminate the consent decree under the PLRA. While it did not terminate the entire consent decree, the court scaled back its requirements to be narrowly drawn and the least intrusive means necessary to address ongoing constitutional violations, which were still numerous. The court issued a permanent injunction with the amended provisions later that same day. The defendants filed an interlocutory appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, appealing the district court’s modification of the consent decree and the new permanent injunction.
Having given the defendants until July 1, 2022 to purge themselves of contempt, the court held a final mitigation hearing on July 19, 2022. After that hearing, on July 29, 2022, the court denied the defendants’ motion for reconsideration and held that, due to the defendants’ continued non-compliance, a receiver needed to be appointed. Nearly all of the legal factors the court considered in determining the necessity of a receiver weighed in favor of such an appointment: the defendants presented a grave and immediate threat to detainees, less intrusive means had failed to remedy the constitutional violations, there was a high risk of confrontation and delay, the defendants had wasted taxpayer resources, the jail lacked effective leadership, and a receivership would lead to an efficient remedy. 2022 WL 3022385.
On July 5, 2022, the defendants moved to stay the injunction pending appeal. The court denied the motion on September 2, 2022, citing the defendants’ willingness to renege on some of the improvements it had promised and perpetuate further harm on incarcerated people. Subsequently, on October 31, 2022, the court appointed a receiver outlined the receiver’s duties and responsibilities. The defendants immediately filed an interlocutory appeal with the Fifth Circuit on November 1, 2022. Shortly thereafter, the United States filed a motion to clarify, seeking confirmation that the relief in the receivership orders was “narrowly drawn, extends no further than necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right, is the least intrusive means necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right” and would not have an “adverse impact on public safety or the operation of a criminal justice system.”
On November 2, 2022, the United States moved for reconsideration of the court’s decision to terminate Section K of the consent decree, which governed conditions of confinement for youth charged as adults at Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center (Henley-Young). When the court terminated Section K, Henley-Young had been subject to another consent decree in a different case. But on October 13, 2022, the court in the other case had terminated the consent decree in its entirety, prompting the United States to argue that Section K should be reinstated and added to the injunction and the receiver’s scope of authority. The court granted in part and denied in part this motion on December 7, 2022, explaining that if the other appeal was remanded by the Fifth Circuit, the court would examine the facts and law to determine whether conditions governing incarcerated youth should be added back into the new injunction.
On December 13, 2022, the monitor issued their eighteenth report, the first since the new injunction. The report noted severe staffing shortages and lack of a mental health unit as ongoing, specific concerns.
The various interlocutory appeals at the Fifth Circuit were consolidated on November 9, 2022. After the consolidation, the defendants moved to stay the case at the trial court level pending the result of the appeals. Their motion was denied by the district court on December 2, 2022. However, on December 29, 2022, the Fifth Circuit ordered that the motion to stay be granted and remanded the case on a limited basis: to allow the district court to rule on the United States’s earlier motions to clarify and for reconsideration, and to allow the district court to conduct additional proceedings related to Section K. The district court granted the motions to clarify and for reconsideration on January 30, 2023, concluding that receivership was “necessary to remedy the ongoing constitutional violations at RDC” and incorporating much of the previously-terminated Section K into the new injunction. The defendants appealed on February 2, 2023.
As of April 6, 2023, the case was ongoing in both the district court and the court of appeals.
Ryan Berry (7/5/2016)
Elizabeth Heise (10/21/2018)
Christiana Johnson (3/31/2020)
Samuel Poortenga (11/13/2020)
Zofia Peach (3/11/2021)
Jonah Hudson-Erdman (12/4/2021)
Kady Matsuzaki (4/6/2023)
For PACER's information on parties and their attorneys, see: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/4302575/parties/united-states-v-hinds-county/
Barbour, William Henry Jr. (Mississippi)
Attorney, Katherine Elmlinger (Mississippi)
Attorney, Mitzi Dease (Mississippi)
Barker, Claire (Mississippi)
Bamzai, Vidhi (Mississippi)
Barbour, William Henry Jr. (Mississippi)
Gargiulo, John C. (Mississippi)
Reeves, Carlton Wayne (Mississippi)
Walker, Robert H. (Mississippi)
See docket on RECAP: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/4302575/united-states-v-hinds-county/
Last updated July 4, 2023, 3:15 a.m.
State / Territory: Mississippi
Filing Date: June 23, 2016
Case Ongoing: Yes
Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Public Interest Lawyer: Yes
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: No
Class Action Outcome: Not sought
Causes of Action:
Prevailing Party: Plaintiff
Nature of Relief:
Source of Relief:
Form of Settlement:
Order Duration: 2016 - None
Content of Injunction:
Type of Facility: