The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a federal class action suit to stop the "shockingly inhumane" treatment of children at a juvenile detention center. The lawsuit seeks to force officials to provide sanitary facilities and mental health treatment to young people confined there.
The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi on behalf of a 17-year-old boy. While in the facility, the boy attempted suicide, yet has received no mental health treatment. He has been subjected to physical abuse and filthy conditions,forced to sleep on the floor in an overcrowded, insect-infested cell.
The Harrison County Juvenile Detention Center in Biloxi, Miss., has been operated by a private corporation, the Mississippi Security Police, for more than nine years at an annual cost of $1.6 million. "It is a travesty that the county has chosen to let a private company profit by neglecting and abusing our children," said Vanessa Carroll, a staff attorney for the SPLC's Mississippi Youth Justice Project and counsel for the children.
Most children confined at the facility have not been found guilty of any crime and are awaiting court hearings. Many are there for minor offenses like truancy.
The lawsuit describes how the county has failed to provide the most basic, constitutionally-required services to the plaintiff, known in the suit as D.W. "Toilets and walls are covered with mold, rust and excrement," the lawsuit says. "Insects have infested the facility and the smell of human excrement permeates the entire building. Children frequently have to sleep on thin mats that smell of urine and mold. Defendants do not provide children with adequate personal hygiene items."
Children who have been confined there describe assaults by guards, being locked in their cells for 23 hours every day, inadequate medical and mental health care and widespread infections caused by filthy conditions. Marlon, 17, said children are treated like animals at the facility. "I've seen the guards slam kids, mace them and do things they wouldn't even do to their own dog, let alone a human."
Photos at Merci, Paris.