Monday, June 1, 2015
After the release of a damning report from the U.S. Justice Department concerning conditions at Hinds County jails, officials are eyeing changes to the pay structure for guards.
On May 21, the DOJ published the results of a year-long investigation finding that Hinds County violates the constitutional rights of prisoners by failing to protect them from violence and by holding them beyond their court-ordered release dates.
The report notes that the county jails—one in downtown Jackson and another in Raymond—are not only understaffed, but that inexperienced and inadequately trained staff sometimes unnecessarily use force on prisoners.
This morning, board President and District 3 Supervisor Peggy Hobson Calhoun recommended pay increases for detention officers to make Hinds County more competitive with surrounding counties that pay more.
"They put their lives in danger each time they come through the detention-center doors," Calhoun said this morning.
Hinds County detention officers have a starting salary of around $18,000 per year and earn an average of $22,000 per year, Calhoun said. Comparatively, jailers in Rankin and Madison counties earn an average of $23,254 and $24,876, respectively, Calhoun said.
The relatively low salaries in Hinds County make it difficult to attract and retain staff. Alleged misconduct of Hinds jail employees have brought harsh criticism to the county and to Sheriff Tyrone Lewis, whose office runs the day-to-day operations of the jails but does not control the finances.
In recent weeks, a jailer was terminated for sleeping on the job, and two detention officers were arrested and charged with helping prisoners escape from the downtown Jackson facility.
The DOJ also took a sample of 100 people booked into the jail in the past year and found that it held 12 of those people past their ordered release date because of staffing reductions and reassignments, broken fax machines and out-of-date software, and jail employees not understanding the language in court orders. (The report points out that the current jail administration removed books explaining the language of judicial dispositions.)
In response to Calhoun, District 1 Supervisor Robert Graham said the DOJ did not recommend increasing salaries.
"The DOJ said there needs to be more guards, not to pay them more," Graham said. "It's my estimation that (jailer salaries) do need to be upgraded, but we need to think about all our employees. To give them a raise would not be fiscally responsible."
Graham said the county should hold off on any salary increases until the next round of budget negotiations. The board took no action today on the salary issue.