For Immediate Release
ACLU And Southern Poverty Law Center File Federal Lawsuit Challenging Inhumane Conditions At For-Profit Youth Prison
Youth Incarcerated At Mississippi Facility Subjected To Physical Abuse And Denied Basic Educational And Medical Services
JACKSON, MS - The
American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and
Jackson civil rights attorney Robert B. McDuff today filed a federal
class-action lawsuit against the for-profit operators of the Walnut
Grove Youth Correctional Facility (WGYCF), charging that the children
there are forced to live in barbaric and unconstitutional conditions and
are subjected to excessive uses of force by prison staff. The lawsuit
was filed on behalf of all the teenagers and young men in the facility.
Among the named defendants in the
lawsuit are the Walnut Grove Correctional Authority and the Geo Group,
Inc., which is the second-largest private prison company in the country.
The facility houses youth between the ages of 13 and 22 who have been
tried and convicted as adults, more than two-thirds of whom are
incarcerated for non-violent offenses.
"Lawmakers deciding to send children
as young as 13 into the adult criminal justice system is a symptom of
our nation's addiction to mass incarceration," said Margaret Winter,
Associate Director of the ACLU National Prison Project. "Studies show
that young people diverted into the adult criminal justice system are
far more likely to re-offend than those treated as juveniles. And it
ratchets up the likelihood of bad outcomes when the law commits kids to
prisons run by profit-driven corporations that skimp on basic
supervision and services to squeeze out more profit, leading to the
kinds of suicides, rapes and beatings that are commonplace at WGYCF."
The lawsuit describes a facility
known for its culture of violence and corruption. Some prison staff
exploit youth by selling drugs inside the facility or by entering into
sexual relationships with them. Staff members savagely beat young
prisoners who are handcuffed and defenseless, or spray them with
chemicals when they are locked in their cells.
WGYCF, which opened in 2001, was
constructed with over $41 million of taxpayer money. Since then, the
Mississippi legislature has tripled the size of the facility, leading to
significantly increased profits for Geo Group.
"The Mississippi legislature
established WGYCF with the hope that the young men housed there would be
provided a second chance," said Sheila Bedi, Deputy Legal Director of
SPLC. "Unfortunately, private prison companies prioritized their profits
over the well being of Mississippi's youth. As a result, the young men
imprisoned in this facility endure unspeakable abuses at a tremendous
cost to Mississippi's taxpayers."
According to the lawsuit, one young
man was tied to his bunk for over 24 hours, brutally raped and sexually
assaulted after prison staff failed to heed his pleas for protection.
Other youth have suffered multiple stabbings and beatings, including one
youth who will live with permanent brain damage as a result of an
attack in which prison staff were entirely complicit.
Michael McIntosh, the father of a
young man who was incarcerated at the facility and a founder of Friends
and Family of Youth Incarcerated at Walnut Grove, a coalition of
individuals who advocate for the youth at WGYCF, said, "Because of the
abuse my son suffered at WGYCF, he will live with permanent brain damage
for the rest of his life."
A copy of the lawsuit is available online at: www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights-