New ‘sheriff’ points out unconscionable, bipartisan habits at Mississippi jail

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imagine being a married father of three suddenly arrested for a murder you didn’t commit. You are held in prison in Clarksdale, Mississippi, for six years before being tried, and the jury then acquits you. While you were locked up, your wife took your kids and left the state, and you are now free but have nothing.

The name itself is formal and almost innocuous: pre-trial detention. But it’s an unconscionable practice – a practice that has driven me crazy ever since I returned to Mississippi in 2001 and co-founded a newspaper here in 2002. I soon learned that the Capital Region prisons in rural areas of Mississippi locked up defendants only. of a crime for several months, often several years, before being judged.

The worst: very few people care.

Most of the inmates awaiting trial are poor and black and cannot afford bail. So while they are innocent until proven guilty and legally, the reality is they are regularly stored in disgusting facilities with poor security and too often corrupt guards, and many end up committing suicide in prison or being killed, including right here in Hinds County.

Recall that Hinds is home to a supposedly ‘radical’ capital due to so-called criminal justice and prison reformers elected to key positions but bowing to a wave of politics focused on maximum incarceration even before trial. . We hear a lot more about the lack of prison beds than about how to free the ones we have quickly and humanely.

Minutes after his release from Coahoma County Jail after a jury verdict on Nov. 12, 2021, Duane Lake (pictured) raised his hands in rejoicing. He denied having anything to do with the crime. District Attorney Brenda F. Mitchell charged him with murder in 2015. Photo courtesy of MacArthur Justice Center

The reality is tough but vital to confront, and the reasons are systemic and varied, as journalist Kayode Crown has reported in a cohesive series about the best criminal justice journalism you’ve ever seen coming out of Mississippi, precisely because the work is so local and flagged from top to bottom with boots on the ground. In my 20 years as a Mississippi editor, I have learned that the causes of this inhuman detention include greed, disorganization, apathy, and a widely held (and bipartisan) belief that those locked up have had it.

Remember: they are innocent without trial or plea (and some are probably innocent when pleading to avoid conditions).

Plus, it’s terrible financial management: our prisons are perpetually at capacity because a group of adults in positions of power and from various parties can’t come together and figure out how to sue and go to trial any faster. . Maybe they need better systems; maybe they need to pull dead weight; probably both.

Meanwhile, while prisons are cesspools of violence waiting to happen and inmates are groomed for bad behavior on their way out, including gang initiations with guards watching, as I described in a Jackson Free News Article 2018, many Jackson politicians are creating senseless squabbles over the supposed need to rent jail space to lock up low-level crime suspects even as the nation’s smartest cities realize they can create violent criminals. doing this – and reversing course.

Yet in Mississippi there is an open belief (and not just among white people) that police should arrest young (black) men for minor offenses and lock them up in jail indefinitely – as a prevention of violence. This is insane logic, and it is an inadmissible policy.

I’m telling you all this to, yes, let you off steam once again: WHY ARE SUPPOSEDLY DECENT HUMAN BEINGS ALLOWING THIS TO HAPPEN WITH TAXAXERS’ MONEY?

The Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond, Mississippi has suffered from structural flaws since it opened on Monday, Nov. 14, 1994. Trip Burns File Photo/Courtesy Jackson Free Press

Kayode Crown: the opposite of a parachutist reporter

I’m also telling you this to let you know that a new reporting sheriff, so to speak, is on the beat in Mississippi Criminal Justice to make sure this issue, and those related to it, stay front and center until until solutions are found. No more turning a blind eye and dismissing the issue on the road, and the media ignoring it.

Crown Kayode reporter is determined not to allow that to happen, and since January 15 has been a full-time reporter at the Mississippi Free Press. While he will devote much of his time to reporting on criminal justice from deep within the communities he most affects, he has also been asked to do other reporting. I like it: just read his in-depth journalism on the children of Jackson (and Mississippi) ingest huge amounts of lead (which according to medical science leads to criminal activity)—as well as potential solutions.

The lead poisoning of most children of color is another slice of Mississippi inhumanity allowed to continue because adults turn their heads and pretend it will go away.

Pipes showing lead corrosion
In two lawsuits filed by New York attorney Corey Stern in October 2021 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, plaintiffs are seeking $3 billion in damages from claims about the effects of lead in the water in Jackson, Miss., and public officials’ neglect to do anything about it. Photo courtesy of EPA

I hired Kayode, who started out as a journalist in his native Nigeria, when I was still editor of the Jackson Free Press as a town-county reporter. He’s quickly become the best reporter in that role I’ve ever hired, precisely because he can’t constitutionally stay out of Jackson communities that other reporters routinely ignore, and he doesn’t just try to pass everything his time on a handful of high-profile stories. It focuses daily and tells story after story about the inequalities and conditions that affect black people in our state far more often than white communities. And it follows and does not disappear in pursuit of the next gripping story.

Several months ago, I hired him part-time at the Mississippi Free Press, and he moved to part-time at the JFP. From today, this journalistic machine focuses on the genre of surveillance coverage that brings change, whether it’s an elderly black Jackson couple struggling with sewage smells or excerpts from Kayode’s work appear in U.S. District Judge Carleton Reeves’ request for immediate action for his statement on the conditions of detention.

I’ve seen these problems escalate for 20 years in Hinds County, but I’ve never seen Hinds County Board of Supervisors takes action until after the stories of Kayode. It may be a coincidence.

Robert Graham, David L. Archie, Credell Calhoun, Vern O. Gavin, Bobby
The five-member Hinds County Board of Supervisors is financially responsible for the management of the Raymond Detention Center. U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves is demanding the county explain what it is doing to address various issues at the facility. Photo courtesy of Hinds County Board of Supervisors

The super-focused Kayode weaves solutions and comparative situations directly into his stories, which is unusual here where coverage of such issues regularly has a breathy air of sensationalized desperation. In Mississippi, local reporters and paratroopers love to cover the sexy beat of criminal justice, which can reap rewards, but stick with the same story and dig into communities to find causes and seek solutions beyond reality. ‘State ? Not really.

Kayode embodies the work ethic and forward-thinking service journalism Kimberly Griffin and I founded MFP to do for Mississippi. He joins three trusted full-time Mississippi-born reporters—Ashton Pitman, Calf of Aliyah and Nick Judin– and one list of freelance journalists with the same ethos of reporting and community: do it for the people, and do it well.

Frankly, your support for our NewsMatch campaign made it possible to hire Kayode full-time now with other hires to come (including an editor and, as soon as possible, a systemic education reporter), and to begin a schedule of earned raises for members of the team (we haven’t had any turnover in almost two years since the launch; only growth). We are blessed that so many of you are investing in “upstream” journalism in Mississippi without paywalls or a romantic fixation on the powerful and their cyclical horse races. You are enabling a growing wave of dedicated journalists to delve into long-ignored corners and communities of our state, where our journalists either want to go or already live.

So thanks. We all appreciate you more than you can imagine.

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff, or its board members. To submit an essay for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and fact-checking information to [email protected] We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints

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