An inmate, perhaps mentally ill, died in the Mississippi County Jail last Friday after a fight in the facility.
The incident prompted Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley to seek suspension of the sheriff while the death is under investigation.
While the courts will eventually decide the outcome of the complicated case, Hawley’s intervention sends a signal: Run your jail properly, or someone will do it for you.
We hope Jackson County officials are paying attention.
For more than 18 months, we’ve heard one horror story after another about the Jackson County jail. An inmate died in the jail earlier this year, raising questions about medical treatment at the facility.
It’s a woeful, unacceptable record. Jackson County Executive Frank White shares a good part of the blame, along with county legislators past and present.
Investigations are underway. But they’re not as transparent as they should be — some findings remain secret — and they’re behind schedule.
No prisoner should be forced to live in subhuman conditions while bureaucrats fiddle with the pages of a report.
But assigning blame may be less important than fixing the problem. And Hawley’s intervention this week suggests a path: independent oversight of the jail.
We don’t think Hawley’s office can provide it. Missouri’s legal framework for jail oversight is tissue-thin, and we have little confidence in the state’s ability to fix problems at an urban jail.
Federal oversight is another matter.
For roughly two decades, starting in the 1980s, the jail was operated under the direct supervision of the federal court. That oversight ended only after officials added beds to ease overcrowding concerns.
The current problems at the jail beg for new federal intervention, either through a lawsuit or a consent agreement with the Department of Justice.
A federal order requiring additional jail space isn’t out of the question.
We would not normally support a jail takeover. But Jackson County is nearly out of time. Someone needs to step in.
“The Jackson County Jail has a history of horrendous conditions,” Federal Judge Dean Whipple wrote a decade ago.
He was right then and now. Local mismanagement of the Jackson County Jail must end, or someone else must intervene and do the job.