New Jackson Mayor Frank Melton is correct that high bail bonds should be given to some criminal suspects, but the problem is not necessarily the bond amounts but the criminal justice system.
Over the past few years, capacity at the Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond has frequently been exceeded, threatening fines against the county under a longstanding federal court order.
In this milieu, even the highest initial bail amounts are meaningless if they must be reduced in order to meet the jail’s legal capacity, requiring people charged to be let free.
The problem is housing pre-trial detainees – people arrested but yet to be adjudicated. On a recent day, of 571 inmates jailed, 519 were pretrial detainees. And it’s not confined to minor cases, but even murder defendants.
As outlined in the The Clarion-Ledger series, “Hinds County: Patchwork Justice,” according to Hinds Public Defender Tom Fortner, it’s not uncommon for murder defendants to wait years for trial. “Trial judges have pretty much gutted the speedy trial in Mississippi . . . . There is no criminal justice system. There’s a whole bunch of little pieces with no organization,” he said. It’s just worse in Hinds County.
This doesn’t mean Melton should give up. And he is looking for solutions, including adding city judges and providing space for city detainees. How to pay for those expensive items is not so clear.
Rather, Melton needs some help to channel his fervor constructively. The county needs more jail space. It also needs more prosecutors and probably more judges. Mainly, it needs a short- and long-term plan with financing alternatives.
Still, Melton’s zeal to fix the problems is refreshing, especially since these are the same problems that have plagued the city and county for years. Let’s hope it is contagious with some other elected officials