SPLC Reaches Settlement to Improve Conditions, Stop Abuses at Juvenile Detention Center in Forrest County, Miss.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has reached an agreement with officials in Forrest County, Miss., that requires the county to improve the inhumane conditions and stop the abuse of children at a detention center where video footage showed children being beaten and hogtied by staffers.

The SPLC and Disability Rights Mississippi (DRMS) sued in March to force the county to comply with federal law requiring that children at the Forrest County Juvenile Detention Center be allowed access to lawyers and civil rights advocates. In April, the SPLC filed a lawsuit challenging the conditions at the facility, located in Hattiesburg.

“We are pleased that Forrest County agreed to improve conditions for the children held at this facility,” said Jody Owens, lead attorney on the case for the SPLC. “Juvenile detention is at a point of crisis in Mississippi. The only solution is for counties to take immediate action to end abuse in juvenile detention centers and to develop less-expensive, more-effective alternatives that are better at rehabilitating children than traditional jail cell detention. Today, Forrest County has taken a first step in this direction.”

Earlier this year, video footage showed youths being beaten, hogtied and slammed in walls by staffers. The video was released and shown in the local media despite the county’s effort to prevent it from being aired. When the SPLC and DRMS sought access to the children to provide them with federally mandated protection and advocacy services, county officials barred their access.

In addition to the abuse documented in the video, the juvenile detention center has regularly confined children to filthy, crowded cells for 23 hours a day, according to the lawsuit.

In the settlement agreement, county officials agreed to improve staffing and alleviate overcrowded conditions; shorten the time that children are confined to their cells each day; and improve educational and rehabilitative programs.

The SPLC works throughout Mississippi to monitor the conditions at juvenile detention centers and advocate for the rights of children when those rights are violated.