Juvenile jail under fire

This graphic is an outline of Mississippi with a portion of the state flag in it.

Disability Rights Mississippi and the Southern Poverty Law Center charged in a class action lawsuit, filed June 1, that a juvenile detention in Jackson, Mississippi, is keeping people with disabilities in living conditions that constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

The lawsuit details a system where children in the Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center, the state’s largest juvenile jail, are regularly isolated 20 to 23 hours a day in small cells, forced to experience prolonged periods of isolation and sensory deprivation, denied mental health services, subjected to verbal abuse and threatened with physical harm.

“These violations reflect a disorganized, understaffed facility that houses children in brutal, abusive conditions,” according to the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi,

On June 7, the two advocacy groups filed an emergency appeal to the court to prevent officials from the detention from blocking lawyers and advocates from meeting with the youths at the facility.

“It’s bad enough that Hinds County fails to protect imprisoned children from abuse and neglect,” said Jody Owens, director of the SPLC’s Mississippi office, according to a news release. “But now the county is retaliating against the youths who came forward and reported these conditions by denying them access to their lawyers. It is unfortunate that Hinds County would rather spend taxpayer money defending the indefensible and promulgating policies that violate clearly established federal law.”

The facility has a capacity to hold 84 juveniles at any time. More than 300 individuals pass through the facility each year.

Disability Rights Mississippi is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.