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Polk County Trial Resource Center

Trial in the SPLC’s class action lawsuit against Polk County, Fla., Sheriff Grady Judd over the abuse and neglect of children and teens at his jail began on Monday, Nov. 18.

The suit, Hughes, et al. v. Judd, et al, alleges that children are subjected to dangerous conditions of confinement, including the failure to have staff stationed inside juvenile dorms; the pepper-spraying of children for failing to obey orders; the placement of children in harsh isolation conditions without due process; and the cruel treatment of children on suicide watch. The lawsuit also presents evidence of Judd’s failure to provide the children in his care with a rehabilitative environment and of private medical provider Corizon Health Inc.’s failure to provide children with adequate mental health care. Corizon Health is a co-defendant in the case.

The lawsuit comes after Florida lawmakers passed SB 2112 in 2011, allowing county sheriffs to take over the detention of juveniles previously held in facilities overseen by the state Department of Juvenile Justice. SB 2112 allows the detention of youths under standards governing jails operated by county sheriffs, rather than the more-protective juvenile justice standards.

Polk County is the only county in Florida so far to detain youths charged as juveniles under county jail standards rather than juvenile justice standards. Judd's treatment of children in his care illustrates how SB 2112 has reversed more than 40 years of juvenile justice efforts to create protections for children that adult jails cannot provide.