Children held at the Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center in Jackson, Miss., were denied mental health services and subjected to verbal abuse and threats of physical harm by staff members. The Southern Poverty Law Center and Disability Rights Mississippi filed a class action lawsuit in June 2011 after numerous attempts to resolve the issues with Hinds County officials failed. A settlement agreement to protect youth at the facility was approved in March 2012.
Abusive incidents detailed in the 2011 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 a 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.
After months of negotiations, the SPLC reached a settlement with Hinds County to improve the living conditions at the facility and protect the constitutional rights of the youth held at Henley-Young. The agreement required the facility to provide youth with adequate medical and mental health care in a timely manner and to provide daily educational, rehabilitative and recreational programming. It also provides significant protections that will ensure youth do not experience staff-on-youth physical abuse or the abusive use of handcuffs and shackles.
The agreement also provides increased staffing levels to ensure that youth are adequately supervised.
A nationally renowned juvenile justice expert was hired to monitor the facility’s compliance with the terms of the agreement, which was designed to terminate after two years if all the conditions were met. Attorneys continued to communicate with detained youths.
In February 2014, the SPLC filed a motion asking the court to hold county officials in contempt and to extend the agreement, citing the monitor’s report that the county had not substantially complied with any of its 71 provisions.