06/01/2011

SPLC Lawsuit Targets Abuse, Neglect of Children Held in Jackson, Miss., Detention Center

The Southern Poverty Law Center and Disability Rights Mississippi filed suit in federal court today to protect the rights of children and teens who face inhumane treatment in Mississippi's largest juvenile detention center.

The suit says Hinds County, which operates Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center in Jackson, violates the constitutional rights of children by subjecting them to prolonged periods of isolation and sensory deprivation, denying them mental health services, and subjecting them to verbal abuse and threats of physical harm.

The SPLC and DRMS filed the class action lawsuit after numerous attempts to resolve the issues with county officials failed.

"This litigation presents an opportunity for the county to re-direct its resources away from this abusive facility and into community-based alternatives that will better serve our children, protect public safety and reduce taxpayers' exposure to legal liability," said Jody Owens, who leads SPLC's Mississippi office.

Abusive incidents detailed in the lawsuit include:

  • A staff member taunted one young man and encouraged him to kill himself so that there would be "one less person officers have to worry about" after the teen began cutting himself with a razor.

  • Staffers regularly verbally abuse children, cursing and threatening harm to the children and their family members.

  • A staff member threatened to harm a child's family because the child took too long to return to his cell after his shower.

  • Youths are forced to stay in their small cells for 20 to 23 hours every day with very little human contact, exercise or access to education and rehabilitation programs.

  • Staffers regularly withhold necessary medication from children with serious mental health problems.

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