Children and teens held at the Lauderdale Juvenile Detention Center in Meridian, Miss.,were subjected to shockingly inhumane treatment at the facility. The Southern Poverty Law Center sued Lauderdale County and reached a settlement agreement to end the abuses.
Youths endured physical and mental abuse as they were crammed into small, filthy cells and tormented with pepper spray for even minor infractions. Most of the children were allowed to leave their cells for only one or two hours a day. Many had mental illnesses or learning disabilities. They were either awaiting court hearings or serving sentences for mostly non-violent offenses.
The agreement ensures that youths at the detention center can no longer be locked in cells all day; ends the indiscriminate use of pepper spray and mace; requires clean and sanitary conditions to be maintained; requires health and mental health screening and treatment; requires adequate educational, rehabilitative and recreational programs, and ends the use of a chair with mechanical restraints.
It also establishes a Juvenile Justice Community Advisory Board. Composed of community members, the advisory board will seek input about court and facility operations from youths currently or formerly imprisoned. The board also will be responsible for touring the facility regularly, providing feedback to county officials and securing resources for court-involved youth.
The SPLC initially filed suit in October 2009 to open the facility to inspection. The SPLC was representing Disability Rights Mississippi (DRM), a nonprofit organization authorized under federal law to protect the rights of people with disabilities in Mississippi, including youths at the detention center. Lauderdale County authorities had denied DRM access to the facility and the children for more than a year. After gaining access to the facility, the lawsuit was amended to address the inhumane conditions that were discovered.