September 15, 2016

WALNUT GROVE, Miss. — The Mississippi Department of Corrections closed Walnut Grove Correctional Facility today, a prison operated under contract with the state by the Management and Training Corporation (MTC), a private, for-profit company.

“Less than a month after the Department of Justice announced the end of private prisons in the federal system, the industry is taking another well-deserved hit with the loss of Walnut Grove,” said Gabriel Eber, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “This prison’s operators sacrificed their prisoners’ safety, cutting back on staff and safety measures so severely that violence was rampant. We will remember Walnut Grove as an object lesson in the horrors that result when a for-profit company has total control over human lives without oversight or accountability.”

Since 2003, Walnut Grove has been operated by private prison companies — first by Cornell Corrections, which was later bought by the GEO Group, then MTC. The ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and McDuff & Byrd since 2010 have been litigating against the state of Mississippi for improved conditions at Walnut Grove. They have a similar lawsuit over conditions at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, which, like Walnut Grove, was formerly run by the GEO Group and is now operated by MTC.

“Good riddance to Walnut Grove, a cesspool sponsored by Mississippians’ tax dollars,” said Jody Owens, managing attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Private prison contracts aren’t just bad investments; they are licenses for neglect and abuse. It is long past time for Gov. Bryant to take taxpayers’ money out of private prisons and put it into rehabilitative programs that prepare incarcerated persons for reentry into society.”

In June 2015, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ruled in the Walnut Grove lawsuit that the Mississippi Department of Corrections was violating the Eighth Amendment by failing to protect prisoners from violence by “gangs run amok.” At that time, the prison held adults; it had been a youth facility until 2012. The removal of all juveniles from the prison had been ordered by Judge Reeves, who called Walnut Grove “a picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world.”

For more information about C.B. et al. v. Walnut Grove Correctional Authority et al.:
https://www.aclu.org/cases/cb-et-al-v-walnut-grove-correctional-authority-et-al

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The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Alabama with offices in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society. For more information, see: www.splcenter.org.

The ACLU’s National Prison Project is dedicated to ensuring that our nation’s prisons, jails, and other places of detention comply with the Constitution, domestic law, and international human rights principles, and to ending the policies that have given the United States the highest incarceration rate in the world. For more information, see: https://www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights.

McDuff & Byrd is a law firm in Jackson, Mississippi, focusing on civil rights and criminal defense cases.

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