Hinds sheriff criticizes county after jail escapes

Hinds County Sheriff Tyrone Lewis

JACKSON – (AP) Hinds County Sheriff Tyrone Lewis is criticizing other county officials for not doing enough to repair the county’s troubled jail.

Lewis says mounting maintenance problems aren’t being addressed, although administrators and county supervisors are aware there’s a crisis.

The recently-elected sheriff led reporters on a tour of the Raymond Detention Center Friday, hours after another inmate escaped. That’s the third escape in three months.

Lewis and Chief Deputy Chris Picou say that dozens of cell door locks are broken, meaning inmates can get out at will. They want county supervisors to hire a company that specializes in jail repairs to fix the problems.

Frederick Destache, the inmate who escaped early Friday, was captured about 30 minutes later at a nearby gas station after a struggle with deputies, the sheriff said.

Supervisors, for their part, voted 3-2 Monday to close the Raymond facility and build a new one. But they set no timeline and it’s unclear how the county would pay for the $30 million to $45 million needed to replace the 1994 jail.

“Until the maintenance department of Hinds County steps up to the plate and makes these corrections, we are going to continue to have inmates escaping and employees resigning and afraid to come to work,” Lewis said in the wake of Destache’s escape through a broken grate in his holding cell. He then walked through a maintenance room, then left via double doors that didn’t lock.

Supervisors and county administrators say they’re filling work requests given to them by Lewis. They say recent escapes should not be blamed on maintenance woes but on lack of vigilance by Lewis’ staff.

“We want to make sure the public is aware that we’re taking full responsibility to fulfill our maintenance duties, and we have a process and are handling it with urgency,” said County Administrator Carmen Davis. “The concern he (Lewis) expressed today is news to me.”

The department has a shortage of guards, and those on staff are poorly trained, Lewis said. The sheriff would not say how many more are needed, citing security concerns.

According to records obtained by The Clarion-Ledger, 24 people identified as detention or correction officers left the department between Jan. 1 and May 31. Of those, 12 were fired, nine resigned and three retired.

On July 2, supervisors will vote on spending more than $1.2 million in money from a 2007 bond issue on immediate jail repairs. “The items in the Power Point presentation are the ones being addressed,” Davis said.

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