Children held at the Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center in Jackson, Miss., were denied mental health services and subjected to verbal abuse and threats of physical harm by staff members. The Southern Poverty Law Center and Disability Rights Mississippi filed a class action lawsuit in June 2011 after numerous attempts to resolve the issues with county officials failed. A settlement agreement to protect youth at the facility was approved in March 2012.
The public school system of Mobile County, Ala., violated the constitutional rights of students by suspending them for months at a time over minor misbehavior without giving parents and guardians an opportunity to defend them. The SPLC filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of six students suspended for apparent minor misbehavior such as un-tucked shirts, tardiness or failing to carry a school ID.
Latino students in Durham, N.C., public schools were subjected to pervasive discrimination throughout the school district. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. The SPLC eventually reached an agreement with the Durham Public Schools system to end discriminatory practices that created this hostile environment for Latino students.
The Forrest County Juvenile Detention Center in Mississippi was the site of numerous abuse allegations. Security camera footage from the facility showed youths being slammed into walls and beaten by staffers. When Disability Rights Mississippi (DRMS) attempted to provide the youths with services to protect them from further abuse, Forrest County officials blocked access to them. The Southern Poverty Law Center and DRMS sued the county to force it to comply with federal law and allow DRMS access to the children. After county officials settled the suit by granting access, a second lawsuit was filed challenging the inhumane conditions found at the facility in Hattiesburg. County officials agreed to improve the conditions at the facility as part of a settlement agreement for the second lawsuit.
Students in Birmingham, Ala., schools were sprayed with pepper spray as punishment for routine offenses. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of district students to end the practice and other abusive and unconstitutional behavior.
Staff members at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in Mississippi abused their authority by selling drugs to the youths in their care, brutally beating them and even engaging in sexual relationships with them. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the teenagers and young men held at the facility. A groundbreaking settlement agreement was reached that will ensure children and teens incarcerated in Mississippi will no longer be housed in the privately run prison or subjected to brutal solitary confinement.
Students with disabilities were denied access to New Orleans public schools and often pushed into schools unable to provide them with the educational services they deserved under federal law. The Southern Poverty Law Center and a coalition of advocacy groups filed a federal lawsuit against the Louisiana Department of Education to bring these schools into compliance with federal law and end practices that harm students with disabilities.
Public schools in Jackson, Miss., often failed to provide students with disabilities the services mandated by federal law and needed for these students to succeed in the classroom. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a formal complaint on behalf of these students with the Mississippi Department of Education, which found the district had violated major components of the federal law that ensures students with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education.
Children at Sarah T. Reed Elementary School in New Orleans were subjected to unlawful arrest and excessive force – including handcuffing and shackling – for minor violations of school rules. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of a first-grade student handcuffed and shackled to a chair by an armed security officer after the student argued with another youth. A settlement agreement resulted in the school district prohibiting the use of fixed restraints and limiting the use of handcuffs.
Mississippi's mental health system is failing children from low-income households. The state fails to invest in community-based services and instead pumps the bulk of its resources into ineffective, expensive institutions. Parents are often forced to choose between hospitalizing their children or foregoing mental health services altogether.