As a direct result of a historic class action law suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) Mississippi will enter into a consent decree banning the horrific practice of subjecting kids convicted as adults to solitary confinement.
The consent decree is believed to be the first of its kind and will require the state to move such kids out of a brutally violent privately run prison and into a separate stand-alone facility that is operated in accordance with juvenile justice standards and not the more punitive adult correctional standards.
The conditions the children in Mississippi are subjected to are truly outrageous. Currently children as young as 13 who have been tried and convicted as adults in Mississippi are sent to the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility (WGYCF), operated by GEO Group, Inc., the nation’s second largest for-profit prison corporation.
As described in the lawsuit, GEO staff routinely peddled drugs to the teenagers in their custody, beat and sexually exploited them. They also failed to protect them from violence at the hands of older, predatory prisoners and were at times complicit in brutal attacks on juvenile prisoners.
Solitary confinement was also routinely used as a form of punishment. While in solitary the youth are held in almost complete isolation and sensory deprivation with virtually no human contact. They are denied all visits, telephone calls and fail from their families. If prison staff identify a child as suicidal–which the lawsuit shows they often do with punitive motives–that child is stripped naked except for a paper gown and denied a mattress.
The conditions described in the lawsuit should make every American sick. Since the 1990s our justice system has moved toward making it easier to try children as adults and to incarcerate them in the same harsh and dangerous conditions as adults.
The consent decree will bring an end to this unconscionable practice in Mississippi, but not the other states where children are subjected to this kind of horrific abuse. Kudos to the ACLU and the SPLC for their tireless advocacy on behalf of this country’s most vulnerable.
Photo from Vectorportal via flickr.
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