Groundbreaking Federal Consent Decree Will Prohibit Solitary Confinement of Youth in Mississippi
Children Will No Longer Be Housed in Facility Run by Private Prison Company After ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center Lawsuit
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JACKSON, Miss. - Children under the supervision of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) will no longer be housed in a privately run prison or subjected to brutal solitary confinement under the terms of a groundbreaking settlement of a federal class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
The lawsuit charged that conditions at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, operated by GEO Group, Inc., the nation's second largest private prison corporation and which houses youth convicted as adults, are unconstitutional.
"This represents a sea change in the way MDOC will treat children in its custody," said Sheila Bedi, deputy legal director for SPLC. "As a result of this litigation, Mississippi's children will no longer languish in an abusive, privately operated prison that profits each time a young man is tried as an adult and ends up behind bars."
Under the proposed decree, MDOC will be required to remove the youth from the GEO-operated prison and house them at a standalone facility, governed by juvenile justice rather than adult standards. MDOC will be required to provide the youth with a broad variety of rehabilitative services and strong protections from sexual abuse and violence. The decree also categorically bars the state from subjecting young people to solitary confinement - the first time a federal court has banned the barbaric practice of housing children in long-term isolation.
"It's been known for a long time that prolonged solitary confinement causes terrible suffering and psychiatric breakdown even in mature healthy adults - let alone in emotionally vulnerable children and teenagers," said Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU National Prison Project. "Getting these kids out of the greedy hands of GEO is a big step forward, and the ban on solitary confinement in this decree is truly unprecedented."
The lawsuit, filed in November 2010 by the ACLU, SPLC, and civil rights attorney Robert B. McDuff, challenged notoriously abusive conditions in the GEO-run facility. The lawsuit describes the routine practice of GEO staff peddling drugs to the teenagers in their custody, subjecting them to brutal beatings, sexual exploitation, solitary confinement and failing to protect them from violence at the hands of older, predatory prisoners. One youth suffered permanent brain damage as a result of an attack in which GEO staffers were complicit.
The consent decree will also require MDOC to protect the adults who will be housed at Walnut Grove from physical and sexual abuse, violence, excessive use of force and prolonged isolation, and will require MDOC to increase its oversight of GEO.
The hearing to finalize the decree is scheduled for March 22 at 9:00 am in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeve in Jackson.
A copy of the settlement agreement is available online at: www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights-racial-justice/cb-et-al-v-walnut-grove-correctional-authority-et-al-consent-decree