07/26/2011

SPLC Wins Access to Youths at Abusive Mississippi Detention Facility

The Southern Poverty Law Center and Disability Rights Mississippi (DRMS) have won access to youths held at the abusive Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center in Jackson, Miss. A federal judge ruled Monday that facility officials can no longer block lawyers and advocates from meeting with detained children and teens.

"This ruling not only ensures that children held at this abusive facility are able to access attorneys and advocates, it makes clear that juvenile detention facilities must operate with transparency and cannot shield child abuse," said Jody Owens, director of the SPLC's Mississippi office. "We hope the county will work with us to end the inhumane treatment of youths at the facility instead of continuing to spend taxpayer money in an effort to hide these abuses.”

The groups were denied access after filing a federal lawsuit detailing unconstitutional abuses at Mississippi’s largest juvenile detention facility, which is operated by Hinds County. The groups were even denied access to existing clients.

The lawsuit, filed in early June, charges that officials 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.

The SPLC and DRMS attempted to work collaboratively with the county to reinstate access to the detention center, but the county repeatedly rejected or ignored the requests. As acknowledged in the court ruling, the county's actions violated the rights of these children and their advocates.

DRMS and the SPLC monitor conditions at juvenile detention centers throughout Mississippi 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.

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