Sheriff: Shutting down jail is not that simple

Published 9:31 pm Tuesday, August 1, 2023

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I am writing this article in reference to the photo floating around on social media to set the record straight.

The individual who was placed in the restraint chair was only placed in that chair because he had become a danger to himself by attempting to take his own life and a danger to staff. He was the mastermind behind our most recent security breach.

Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten.

Corrective actions were taken after he was discovered, and he was moved to a single cell where he commenced to flood the jail. Because of how outdated the jail is you cannot cut the water off to a single cell on the floor during flooding like you can in a modern law complex. You have to cut the water off to the entire building. After we were able to shut off the water to the building, he was moved to a dry cell where he attempted to take his own life and was saved again by jail staff.

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We have eight other inmates with mental health issues housed here at the jail and both holding cells were occupied so we did not have another place to put him where he couldn’t do more harm to himself or the staff. The restraint chair was the only option left.

This inmate was in the restraint chair as long as federal law allows. The inmate was also fed lunch and given water on regular intervals. It was actually a better option than the jail since both of the air conditioning units have been running at half capacity in the jail for over 2 months and we are not sure of when they will be repaired.

Last year, the A/C units were completely down in the jail for six months during the summer as well. It is just as hot inside the jail as it is on the outside.

In the past, he has been responsible for flooding the jail on multiple occasions and is responsible for starting at least one jail fire all within the last year. He has been housed in four different locations outside of Adams County within the past year and they all have returned him back to Adams County because of disruptions he has caused within their facilities.

We tried to have him housed in the remaining counties that have a jail and all have refused him. He is currently being held in the Adams County Jail on the charge of murder and is currently awaiting a mental evaluation to be administered by the state.

There isn’t a single hospital or mental health facility in the state that will allow him to be housed at this time for treatment at their facility due to his nature and charges. He was placed in the restraint chair temporarily and often request to be put in it voluntarily in order to just get outside. While outside for the short period of time, he was given food and plenty of water by staff until he could be brought back into the facility.

The reality of the situation is that I have been stating from day one eight years ago that our jail isn’t equipped to house the mentally ill. I am the only Sheriff or Chief in the state of Mississippi who took the stand in Federal Court on behalf of the Federal Government against the State of Mississippi for the inadequate mental health services that are provided. As a result of the testimony, we were able to get a crisis stabilization unit here for about a year.

During the year we were only able to get one individual from the jail into the unit the entire time it was open. Now that unit is closed and new owners are in the process of reopening it.

In the meantime, the county says it is a State issue and State will say they are working on it while the Sheriff’s Office is left dealing with a situation that gets worse by the day.

Everyone sees the mental health housing as a problem, yet doesn’t bring a solution. When you bring a suggestion to deal with the issues that are right in front of all of our faces, you get the same answer. “We don’t have the money to spend on this right now.” Then, you see $2 million spent here and there without hesitation.

What this tells me is that people find money for what they value and it appears mental health isn’t on many people’s list of issues to deal with at all.

Passing the problems on to someone else rather than taking a stand for your own community seems to be a priority.

Let me be very clear on one thing so that the public doesn’t get this confused. Maintenance and upgrades to the jail can only be done with the Board of Supervisor’s approval. The current board inherited these problems and it is the board who can help rectify these problems.

President Gaines has constantly kept the lines of communication open and has consistently shown a strong desire to tackle these tough issues but he is only one vote. He cannot do it alone and this certainly isn’t a reflection of his leadership. President Gaines has actually wanted to address this issue from day one when he took office. He just happened to take the role as President when the jail has deteriorated to its worst state.

I am not pointing the finger or singling out anyone, but I am asking for a better solution facility wise than our last option, which is a restraint chair for someone who no one in the entire state is willing to house.

On another note, when you talk about shutting the jail completely down, keep these things in mind.

1. Currently we are transporting for Drug Court for multiple counties under the jurisdiction of our Circuit Court judges multiple times a week to places like Greenwood, Brandon, Hattiesburg, Poplarville and the coast.

2. We still transport Chancery Court committals to the state hospital multiple times a week utilizing both jail and patrol staff.

3. We still have to coordinate and transport inmates to and from all six courts at different times depending on when they have court proceedings/releases.

4. If an inmate is housed at an outside facility, we are still responsible for transporting them to and from medical visits. We also have to transport their meds daily. Right now, we are currently housing inmates in Rankin, Claiborne, Jefferson and Concordia that require these services weekly.

5. We currently cook for and transport food daily to the Crisis Stabilization Unit.

6. We still transport inmates to and from MDOC weekly after sentencing.

7. Any one arrested in Adams County, still has to be booked in here in Adams County before being transferred to another facility.

8. Bail Bondsman would still have to bond them in and out of our facility.

I spelled all these items out so that the public would know that if the jail were to shut down completely today, we would still be responsible for all aforementioned things. These are the Sheriff’s Office responsibilities regardless of where inmates are housed. I think it is pretty fair to say that this isn’t a 2-person job when you have all these things happening at the same time.

Travis Patten is Adams County Sheriff.