According to a federal consent decree, the state of Mississippi will no longer house juveniles at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility. The juvenile facility, located in Walnut Grove, MS, is run by GEO Group, the second largest private prison corporation in the U.S.
In November 201o, the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal class-action lawsuit against GEO Group when reports emerged of sexual abuse, improper medical care, extended prisoner isolation, and violence among inmates at Walnut Grove. According to the ACLU press release, youth at the facility were “forced to live in barbaric and unconstitutional conditions and [were] subjected to excessive uses of force by prison staff.”
The consent decree requires the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) to remove all youth under the age of 17 from the privately-run Walnut Grove facility and house them in a publicly-operated facility instead. The state is required to provide rehabilitative services for the youth and implement measures to protect them from sexual and physical abuse. Under this decree, the state of Mississippi is also prohibited from placing any youth in solitary confinement. MWN
Ground-Breaking Federal Consent Decree Will Prohibit Solitary Confinement of Youth Convicted as Adults, and Bar Their Incarceration in Violence-Ridden, For-Profit Prison Run by GEO Group
By KAREN WILSON
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 Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The lawsuit charged that conditions at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, which houses youth convicted as adults, are unconstitutional. The facility is operated by GEO Group Inc., the nation’s second largest private prison corporation.
“This represents a sea change in the way the MDOC will treat children in its custody,” said Sheila Bedi, deputy legal director for the 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, the MDOC will be required to remove the youth from the GEO-operated prison and house them at a stand-alone facility governed by juvenile justice, rather than adult, standards. The 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 SPLC, ACLU and civil rights attorney Robert B. McDuff, challenges notoriously abusive conditions in the GEO-run facility. The lawsuit describes the routine practice of GEO staff peddling drugs to teenagers in their custody, subjecting them to brutal beatings, sexual exploitation and 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 the 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 the MDOC to increase its oversight of GEO.
The hearing to finalize the decree is scheduled for 9 a.m, March 22 in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeve in Jackson.