WASHINGTON – Following a comprehensive investigation, the Justice Department announced today its findings that the state of Mississippi violated the constitutional rights of youth detained at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility (WGYCF). WGYCF is a 1,500-bed prison that houses young men aged 13-22 who were convicted as adults and are in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. WGYCF is run by the GEO group, a private prison company, under contract with the state.
The investigation, announced on Oct. 25, 2010, was in accordance with the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. CRIPA gives the Justice Department authority to seek a remedy for a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the constitutional rights of prisoners in adult detention and corrections facilities. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 authorizes the Department of Justice to seek a remedy for a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the constitutional or federal statutory rights of youth in juvenile justice institutions.
The United States conducted an in-depth investigation, including an on-site inspection of WGYCF, accompanied by expert consultants in the areas of corrections, medical care and mental health care. Evidence reveals systematic, egregious and dangerous practices at WGYCF exacerbated by a lack of accountability and controls. The Justice Department found reasonable cause to believe that a pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct exists in several areas, including:
- Deliberate indifference to staff sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior with youth;
- Use of excessive use of force by WGYCF staff on youth;
- Inadequate protection of youth from youth-on-youth violence;
- Deliberate indifference to youth at risk of self-injurious and suicidal behaviors; and
- Deliberate indifference to the medical needs of youth.
“Our findings show that due to the unconstitutional operation of WGYCF, youth were sexually preyed upon by staff and all too frequently suffered grievous harm, including death,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The widespread and significant deficiencies at the facility violate the Eighth Amendment’s mandate that imprisoned youth be protected from harm and provided with adequate medical and mental health care. The department looks forward to working with the state and its officials to address the constitutional violations by developing and implementing comprehensive remedial measures.”
This investigation was conducted by the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division. The full report can be found at www.justice.gov/crt/about/spl/findsettle.php. For more information on the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, please visit www.justice.gov/crt.