Mississippi sheriff issues damning report on county’s jail; conditions allowed inmate to escape and steal car while male inmates were able to access the female ward

Published 10:56 pm Thursday, August 3, 2023

Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten has released a damning report on the condition of the Adams County Jail that previously has been examined by members of the Board of Supervisors only in executive session.

Kathryn A. Bryan of Detention Operations LLC prepared the report, called an Operational Assessment of the Adams County Jail.

In a press release this week, Patten said Bryan is “one of three people in the United States who is certified to do jail inspections.”

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Patten said the supervisors had been presented with reports on the condition of the jail in the past, but that Bryan was “someone without a dog in the fight.”

The Adams County Jail opened in 1975. Adams County sheriffs dating back to Ronny Brown, who was elected to his first term in November 2003, have complained about the inefficiencies and safety hazards of the jail.

The condition of the jail has come back to the forefront since a series of incidents at the jail recently, which Patten blames on the condition of the jail facility.

On Friday, July 14, an inmate attacked a jail guard after refusing to go back into his cell. Patten said the inmate has mental issues and should not be housed in the jail.

On Wednesday, July 19, an inmate began causing trouble and was placed temporarily in a visitation room while jail staffers worked to move other inmates in order to isolate him. He kicked out a window and ran out of the jail. The escapee stole a car and led officers on a chase before crashing it and severely injuring himself.

On Sunday, July 30, five male inmates climbed through a hole where an inoperable light fixture was in the shower area of the jail and made their way to another part of the jail and liaised with a female inmate, who Patten said was in on the planning of the event.

Bryan’s report on the jail is dated March 30, 2022. She came to Natchez and presented her findings to the supervisors at the board’s meeting on April 6, 2022.

County Attorney Scott Slover asked at that time that the report be heard and discussed in executive session because it could reveal potential security and liability issues involving the jail.

At that time, neither the supervisors nor the sheriff would release the report to the public.

Patten said he released the report now because the public needs to understand the issues with the jail.  As of last week, the county was in the process of moving prisoners to a facility in Concordia Parish for housing, however Patten cites an additional study that he says shows utilizing the parish jail is not a feasible option.

“After the study was done, I asked her to attend a board meeting to explain her findings to the board since I cannot by law do any repairs without (the supervisors) approval,” he said. “After explaining how dire the situation was, the board took it under advisement, but nothing ever came of it.”

In the report, Bryan concludes the jail “is not providing the necessary safety and security to the community, staff and inmates. The facility insufficiencies are also creating an increased liability risk to the county.”

Among Bryan’s findings:

  • The Sally Port, which provides access to the facility for new arrests is unsecure, is poorly designed and rife with security issues.
  • The jail lacks a metal detector or body scanner and space is not available for them. “Due to the ability of arrestees and reporting weekenders to secrete contraband such as drugs, weapons and lighters, such devices are paramount to safety and security.”
  • Detention officers are forced to strip search arrestees in the stairwells in plain view of anyone on the stairs of the opposite sex, in plain view of anyone walking down the hall as there is a window in the door into the stairwell, “and (officers) are in peril of being pushed down the stairs by a combative or non-compliant inmate. The area is not sterile and does not provide for video observation of staff during the process…”
  • The jail lacks the typical intake space and holding cells necessary to separate, supervise and efficiently process arrestees. Due to lack of appropriate housing, the two padded cells in this area are also used for special needs and special management inmates (i.e., suicide watch, administrative segregation, medical, etc.). This is especially concerning as the intake area is a high-risk area because many unstable inmates are processed here. Sufficient means to separate, house and directly observe inmates in this area is paramount to safety and security.
  • The facility does not provide shower facilities for newly admitted inmates. This is of concern as inmates are not showered before they enter general housing, which can assist in controlling lice, checking for injuries, decontamination of dirt, blood, other bodily fluids.
  • There are no outside exercise yards, nor is there sufficient recreations space in the facility…There is no opportunity for fresh air or direct sunlight, both which are important to physical and mental well-being. • The number and design of special management cells is inadequate. The single “isolation” cells adjacent to the entrance from the sally port do not provide for inmate visibility…The cells in this area are not conducive to supervision.
  • The layout of the housing units in the Adams County Jail creates a privacy issue for inmates. The toilets and showers are exposed to other inmates as well as staff of the opposite gender.
  • The facility lacks on-site medical staff. Inmate medications are another area of concern. Several times a week, the nurse brings inmate medications to the jail. They are appropriately packaged in pill packs however the jail lacks sufficient space to provide for their secure storage.

During the site visit, Bryant observed that the inmate medications are kept in a cookie tin in the Control Center.

The report goes on to detail the insufficiencies of the facility as they relate to the security, health and safety of staffers and inmates.

Bryan concludes her report by writing that the county needs a new jail facility.

“It is my unequivocal position that operations in the current facility are untenable and not able to be relieved or significantly mitigated by minor changes in operations. I have significant experience with constitutional liability issues arising from local confinement facilities. I have significant experience with the management and the improvement of local confinement facilities. It is with this depth of practical and academic understanding that I asset that the only feasible path forward for Adams County is with a new jail facility.”

Asked to respond to recent comments from Patten about the jail, Board President Warren Gaines said, “We inherited a problem and we have a temporary solution in place. In the meantime, the board will gather all facts and statistics, which will help us make the best informed decision for Adams County.”

District 1 Supervisor Wes Middleton said in a story published in The Natchez Democrat on Monday the recent events at the jail and the subsequent decision to transfer prisoners from the jail to the Concordia Parish Jail reinforces the need to permanently outsource housing of prisoners.

“About a year ago, we were getting calls from the sheriff almost daily about the dire situation they were in at the jail. My recommendation at the time was to go under agreement with Concordia Parish and try it for a year or two and see how it goes,” Middleton said.

Middleton took the lead on exploring options for housing inmates that were safer for them and for jail staffers about a year ago. Middleton was president of the Board of Supervisors when Bryan presented her report. The best option a year ago was contracting with the Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office.

“In my previous employment, I dealt with prisons on a daily basis. I knew the Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office facility is up to date and professional and houses inmates for multiple parishes,” he said on Monday.

“We all know the jail has been a problem for over 20 years and no one in that time has put a corrective plan in place,” Middleton said. “In my opinion, that is the only logical option we had a year ago and the only option we have now.”