Federal judge appoints receiver to manage Mississippi jail
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JACKSON, Miss (AP) — A federal judge has appointed a receiver to temporarily manage a jail near Mississippi’s capital city to improve conditions.
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves on Monday selected Wendell M. France Sr., a public safety consultant, former correctional administrator and 27-year member of the Baltimore Police Department to remedy “ongoing unconstitutional conditions” at the Hinds County Raymond Detention Center.
On July 29, Reeves placed the jail into receivership after citing poor conditions for prisoners. Reeves said that deficiencies in supervision and staffing lead to “a stunning array of assaults, as well as deaths.” Seven people died last year while detained at the jail, he said in his July ruling.
Reeves also wrote that cell doors did not lock and that a lack of lighting in cells made life “miserable for the detainees who live there and prevents guards from adequately surveilling detainees.” He also said guards sometimes slept instead of monitoring the cameras in the control room.
Hinds County board President Credell Calhoun told the Mississippi Free Press that local officials will weigh their legal options for how to respond.
Federal and state judges have ordered receiverships or a similar transfer of control for prisons and jails only about eight times, according to Hernandez Stroud, an attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.
France began transitioning into his role Tuesday, but he will not have full operational control over the jail until Jan. 1. According to the terms of the receivership laid out by Reeves in court documents, France will have 120 days from the date of his appointment to develop a draft plan reforming the jail’s conditions.
France was chosen from a field of four candidates. After conducting interviews, Reeves chose France based on his “diverse experience in corrections and criminal justice system leadership,” court records show. He will be compensated $16,000 per month.
In addition to his experience as a police officer, France served as deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, where he managed a $22 million budget and 400 employees, Reeves said. He has also worked as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Justice.
An online job profile for France also shows that he is the president of a consulting firm that provides “expert witness service to federal, state, municipal government agencies and private attorneys.”
Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikergoldberg.