Thursday, July 8, 2021
Holding cells for misdemeanor offenders could soon open in Jackson if the council approves the move after an evaluation process.
"That community improvement building which used to be the old youth detention center down the street, I think (has) around 24 cells in it, and it also has a courtroom," Ward 6 Councilman Aaron Banks said at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, July 6. It was the first meeting of the body after their Thursday, July 1, inauguration into a new four-year term.
"I would like to know what that assessment would be to get that building up to par so that it can be used for up to 72 hours for misdemeanor (arrests) until they are transferred down to the county for (to) become pretrial detainees," Banks added.
Before it was closed, that juvenile detention facility was racked with charges of corruption, sexual abuse and poor treatment of young people housed in it, drawing federal lawsuits and national scrutiny.
Banks was the council president in the last year of his four-year term, which ended June 30, and he was shy of one vote to retain the position. Ward 7 Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay won by four votes to three to again become council president. The body also elected Ward 2 Councilwoman Angelique Lee as vice president, the first time women have held both positions.
Banks’ comments on a new detention facility came after Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote raised a point of discussion at the Tuesday meeting, relating information that one City employee gave him about the need for more staff at the Jackson Police Department holding facility.
"During the inaugural parade events that went on last Thursday, I was approached (by a) city employee named Willie Brown, who works at the detention center/jail that's at the basement of the JPD office building," Foote said.
"And he was very, very concerned … that it was getting more dangerous down there in the basement detention part of the building because they had lost like eight employees in the past nine months or so that had left. So they were down to like eight employees remaining keeping law and order down there in the basement around the clock."
Banks said he believes the council will approve the needed money to make the old youth detention center usable. "I think colleagues are willing to have the appetite to see what the financial costs would be to get that building to a place where it could be used as a holding facility," he said.
Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba responded that the City does not have a jail, rather a holding facility. "Any time there are any issues (there), they are immediately transferred over to the county," he explained. "They make certain that they can manage the amount of the population, based on who they have by coordinating with the county jail."
The mayor said assessing the building as Banks proposed may take some time.
"I don't think it would be a problem to get an assessment. I think that assessment has to not only incorporate the physical structure issues but also what the staffing requirements would be (and) the multitude of services that would be necessary for it to be a fully functioning (holding) facility," Lumumba explained.
"We can report back by the next council meeting as to what our approach would be. I'd like to deal with departments internally and see if maybe we need to hire some services to help give a proper assessment of it."
‘The Optics That We Are Living in a Military State’
In October, the city council approved $500,000 to rent jail spaces to hold misdemeanors in Holmes and Yazoo counties. A consent decree does not permit Hinds County to admit certain misdemeanor offenders.
The Federal Government entered into a consent decree with the county in 2015 because of various operational lapses.
“We have been under it for a few years now, one of the stipulations of the consent decree is about our misdemeanor prisoners. The consent decree was established years ago due to a situation in Hinds County detention centers,” Hinds County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tyree Jones told the Jackson Free Press.
Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes also had an item on the meeting agenda "supporting an emergency deployment of the National Guard to address the crime epidemic in the City of Jackson." The council did not vote on the item.
The council president opted to put the item in the law enforcement committee after Banks, who seconded the motion, withdrew it after members of the council suggested taking time to consider a more holistic plan going forward.
Ward 4 Councilman Brian C. Grizzell had said of the resolution that "what concerns me is the optics that we are living in a military state."
"We don't have anywhere to house individuals, so if we were to welcome the National Guard in here, and they arrest offenders, whether it's for misdemeanor or felony, where are they going to go? That is my concern," he added.
Email story tips to city/county reporter Kayode Crown at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @kayodecrown.