SPLC Asks Court to Intervene After Youths at Abusive Facility are Denied Access to Representation

The Southern Poverty Law Center and Disability Rights Mississippi (DRMS) have filed an emergency motion with a federal court to stop officials at a Jackson, Miss., juvenile detention center from blocking attorneys and advocates from meeting with youths held at the abusive facility.

The groups were denied access after filing a federal lawsuit last week that detailed abuse and unconstitutional conditions at the facility. The groups were even denied access to their existing clients held at the Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center, operated by Hinds County.

"It's bad enough that Hinds County fails to protect imprisoned children from abuse and neglect," said Jody Owens, director of the SPLC's Mississippi office. "But now the county is retaliating against the youths who came forward and reported these conditions by denying them access to their lawyers. It is unfortunate that Hinds County would rather spend taxpayer money defending the indefensible and promulgating policies that violate clearly established federal law."

The SPLC and DRMS have attempted to work collaboratively with the county to reinstate access to the detention center, but the county has repeatedly rejected or ignored the requests. The county's actions violate the rights of these children to meet with their attorneys and the right of these groups to monitor and enforce the rights of children with disabilities at Henley-Young.

DRMS and the SPLC monitor the conditions at juvenile detention centers throughout the state and serve as advocates for children when their rights are violated. DRMS is a nonprofit agency with a federal mandate to protect the rights of people with disabilities. Under this mandate, its representatives have a right to enter the facility, interview children, assess the conditions and work with the county to address violations.

The Hinds County facility violated the constitutional rights of children by subjecting them to prolonged isolation and sensory deprivation, denying them mental health services and subjecting them to verbal abuse and threats of physical harm.