09/24/2012

Court monitor: Juvenile detention center in Mississippi failing to follow requirements of settlement with SPLC to stop abuse and neglect

A juvenile detention center in Hattiesburg, Miss., has made “little or no headway” in addressing the dangerous conditions that led to an SPLC lawsuit – even though nearly a year has passed since officials settled the suit with promises to stop the abuse and neglect of children, a court-appointed monitor has found.

The monitor’s report describes how the Forrest County Juvenile Detention Center  is in “substantial compliance” with only six of 70 provisions contained in the settlement agreement. It cites unsanitary conditions, insufficient medical care, inadequate supervision and disciplinary policies, and a lack of rehabilitative programs. The report, filed Sept. 21 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, is the monitor’s second report to the court.

“The county must make a greater effort to fully comply with the settlement agreement and protect children from these dangerous and inhumane conditions,” said Elissa Johnson, an SPLC attorney in Mississippi.

The agreement, reached in October 2011, includes provisions to end prolonged cell confinement and the excessive use of force and mechanical restraints; to provide adequate medical and mental health care; and to develop educational and rehabilitative programs

The federal court appointed Anne Nelsen, a nationally renowned juvenile justice expert, to ensure the county complies. Nelsen wrote that “compliance with the Agreed Order cannot be achieved until major tasks are accomplished. … To date, little or no progress has been made in those areas.”

The report, written after Nelsen visited the facility in June, also details the facility’s inadequate rehabilitative programs. “None of the staff that I interviewed were aware of any such [rehabilitative] programming and most did not know what the term ‘programming’ meant,” Nelsen wrote. The report also describes a facility with poor guidelines for rule violations and a lack of positive incentives for good behavior.

The SPLC and Disability Rights Mississippi brought the class action lawsuit in April 2011 after video footage showed youths being beaten, hogtied and slammed into walls by staffers.