FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE|
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2003
OPA (202) 616-2777
TDD (202) 514-1888
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT FILES LAWSUIT CHALLENGING CONDITIONS
AT TWO MISSISSIPPI JUVENILE TRAINING SCHOOLS
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Justice Department today announced that it has filed a lawsuit challenging the conditions of confinement at two Mississippi juvenile facilities - Oakley Training School in Raymond and Columbia Training School in Columbia.
Oakley houses approximately 325 boys ranging in age from 10 to 18 years old and Columbia holds approximately 100 boys ages 10 to 15, as well as 100 girls ages 10 to 18. The majority of these youth are non-violent offenders. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi alleges that conditions at these facilities routinely and systemically deprive juveniles of federally protected civil rights.
This lawsuit follows a yearlong investigation, the findings of which were detailed in a 48-page letter sent to Mississippi Governor Ronnie Musgrove and Attorney General Mike Moore in June 2003. That letter documented evidence of numerous civil rights violations including staff violence and abusive institutional practices, unreasonable use of isolation and restraints, and inadequate medical, mental health, and educational services.
The investigation revealed evidence that students were frequently subjected to physical abuse by staff, routinely shoved and hit, “hogtied” with hands and feet bound together behind their backs, as well as “pole-shackled” with hands tied behind a pole and left on public display for hours at a time.
Staff, evidence shows, made liberal use of pepper spray - even spraying juveniles already in restraints. Punishment “exercise programs” included forcing youths to exercise carrying tires around their bodies or mattresses on their backs, and when some girls were ill as a result of running in the heat, reports indicate that they were forced to eat their own vomit. Punishment also appears to have included stripping juveniles naked, including those known to be suicidal, and placing them in solitary confinement in a dark cell with only a drain to serve as a toilet. In addition to physical abuse, the Justice Department also found systematically inadequate medical and mental health care, as well as inadequate educational services.
“The conditions at Oakley and Columbia are unconscionable,” said R. Alexander Acosta, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This is no way to set juvenile offenders on the course to law abiding and productive lives. Such children are among the most vulnerable in our society, and this Administration is firmly committed to the vigorous protection of their rights.”
“These allegations and findings concerning the conditions of confinement for youth in this District are not taken lightly by this office,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi Dunn Lampton. “We are committed to working with the state of Mississippi in an attempt to resolve these issues as soon as possible. We are also committed to enforcing the civil rights laws that protect our youth housed in the training schools in Mississippi.”
The Civil Rights Division is authorized to conduct such investigations under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act of 1980 (“CRIPA”). These statutes allow the federal government to identify and root out systemic abuses such as those discovered in Mississippi. The Civil Rights Division has successfully resolved investigations of other juvenile justice facilities in Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and Saipan. Investigations concerning juvenile justice facilities in Arizona, California, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, and South Dakota are pending.
This effort is not limited to juvenile facilities but rather protects all institutionalized persons. Since 2001, the Department of Justice has opened 33 similar investigations into the terms and conditions of confinement at nursing homes, mental health facilities and residences for persons with developmental disabilities, as well as similar institutions. These figures represent a nearly seventy-five percent increase over the 20 such investigations initiated over the preceding three years. The Civil Rights Division has successfully remedied similarly deficient conditions in institutions ranging from a mental health facility in California to a home for persons with developmental disabilities in Puerto Rico.
The United States findings letter to Mississippi Governor Ronnie Musgrove is available at www.usdoj.gov/crt/split/documents/oak_colu_miss_findinglet.pdf. Additional information about the Special Litigation Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division can be found at www.usdoj.gov/crt/split/index.html.