Settlement approved in Mississippi, juvenile jail case

Disability Rights Mississippi and the Southern Poverty Law Center have reached an agreement with the state of Mississippi to reform conditions at its largest juvenile  detention center, where children with disabilities are allegedly being held in solitary confinement for as many as 23 hours a day.

Teenager in handcuffs
Teenager in handcuffs

In June 2011, the advocacy groups filed a lawsuit against the state for violations of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The U.S. District Court for the District of Mississippi approved the settlement March 30.

“This agreement signals a new era of accountability that will end generations of abuse at (the Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center in Jackson),” said Jody Owens, managing attorney for the SPLC’s Mississippi Office, in an article with the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. “Unfortunately, other juvenile detention centers in Mississippi continue to operate without such standards.

“Most counties ignore the requirements of federal law and invest money in juvenile jails rather than effective, cost-saving alternatives. As long as these practices continue, juvenile detention centers in Mississippi will remain in crisis.”

The settlement requires the state to end the use of solitary confinement and provide youth “daily educational, rehabilitative and recreational programming” outside their cells from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., according to the article.

It also provides new protections for inmates from staff abuse. Improved medical care, mental health care, and counseling plans are required as well, including guaranteed medical examinations within 24 hours of request. The state must also increase its staff to youth ratio.

A court-appointed monitor will oversee the settlement to ensure compliance.

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