Monitors continue to decry staffing shortages at Raymond Detention Center

Raymond Detention Center
Raymond Detention Center(WLBT)
Published: Aug. 11, 2022 at 5:55 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Monitors put in place to oversee conditions at the Raymond Detention Center are again slamming the county for problems at the jail.

The monitors’ latest was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi on August 11.

It comes about two weeks after District Court Judge Carlton Reeves ordered the jail be put under receivership, citing the county’s failure to bring RDC up to U.S. Department of Justice standards.

According to the latest report, staffing is at its lowest point since the jail consent decree was put in place in 2016.

Meanwhile, the average daily population at the jail has increased by approximately 150 in the last year and a half, making plans to close the notorious A-Pod unit “impractical.”

“Staffing is not just low at the Raymond Detention Center, it’s low statewide and nationally,” Sheriff Tyree Jones said. “It is not a desirable career right now.”

Jones said the county has taken several steps to attract workers, including raising pay and implementing bi-weekly payments. Previously workers were paid once a month.

The sheriff also implemented a part-time program for certified officers, which allows them to work 20 hours a week, rather than the traditional 40.

“Look at MDOC. They gave a pay raise and they’re struggling,” he said. “It doesn’t always have something to do with money. Being a detention officer isn’t a desirable career right now.”

Sheriff Tyree Jones at a previous press conference.
Sheriff Tyree Jones at a previous press conference.

In July, the Mississippi Department of Corrections announced a salary increase for incoming officers, largely to boost recruiting efforts.

MDOC officials were not immediately available for comment.

As for staffing at the Raymond Jail and Work Center, in January, the total number of working officers fell to 195. In May, numbers dropped again to 175. 351 officers are needed to operate the detention facility with all pods in use.

Monitors report during their May/June visit, only one staffer was on duty to monitor all of C-Pod, and he had not made any log entries to notate his visits to the segregation or suicide units during the duration of his shift.

“The RDC cannot be operated effectively when the staffing level is so low,” monitors tell the court. “Direct supervision of C and B-Pods [was] promised prior to the reopening of C-Pod in October 2020. That has not happened... This has already resulted in some destruction of the renovated C-Pod because the detainees are not supervised.”

A team of monitors was appointed by the court to ensure the county complied with consent decree mandates. The county entered into the decree with DOJ in 2016. In 2021, a new stipulated order was issued by the court. And earlier this year, the decree was scaled back following an evidentiary hearing.

In late July, Reeves issued a new ruling, saying the jail should be taken over by the federal government, saying local leaders were “incapable or unwilling to handle its affairs.”

Monitors say the lack of personnel has left detainees unsupervised, leading to some 39 assaults from February through May. Eleven victims had to be transported to the hospital for treatment, and one detainee suffered five puncture wounds to the torso.

“It’s a jail. People are going to fight in jail. We’re going to have assaults,” Jones said. “Nobody has gotten life-threatening injuries and there have been no deaths.”

At least seven detainee deaths occurred in 2021 prior to Jones being elected.

Monitors go on to tell the court that the staffing shortage has also led to an influx of contraband into the facility.

A shakedown of A and C-Pods on March 18 led to the recovery of 67 shanks, 23 cell phones, and 22 lighters.

“Numerous incident reports [show] inmates going through the roof to receive contraband. In [one incident report] an inmate in a red jumpsuit is observed on the roof. While observing him, an inmate in a green jumpsuit is seen walking along the back perimeter,” monitors said.

On May 4, 2022, for instance, “inmates were discovered on the roof ‘... receiving several packs that [were] being thrown over the fence.’ They had broken out of their cells in A-Pod and escaped through the roof, but they were not trying to flee the facility; they were ‘escaping’ only so that they could recover contraband.”

Jones said the inmates no longer have access to the jail roof, and that while monitors take the county to task for recovering large amounts of contraband, he says the recovery of prohibited items is a good thing and shows his officers being proactive.

“If you come and tell us there are shanks in C-Pod... the first thing we’re going to do is shake down C-Pod and try to recover shanks,” he said. “We’re preventing somebody from getting hurt or getting killed.”

“We know there are shanks in the jail. We know there is other contraband. When we find out, we’re proactive about going in and recovering those things.”

Jones went on to say that his department has arrested numerous people for attempting to introduce contraband into the facility and dismissed staffers for doing the same.

“I’ve terminated several detention officers since I’ve been sheriff because of contraband and other policy violations,” he said. “If we have a staff that brings contraband into the facility, we have to terminate their employment.”

Jones didn’t have total numbers of dismissals readily available.

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