Girls Shackled, Abused at Columbia | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Girls Shackled, Abused at Columbia

June 5, 2007

This story appears in this week's print edition of the Jackson Free Press.

Eight adolescent girls were shackled, some of them for more than a week, at Columbia Training School because another student said they planned to escape. The girls suffered bruises from tripping in the shackles, along with blisters and cuts to their feet and ankles.

Five girls were reportedly shackled from May 17 to May 31, when the student who said they planned to escape admitted she'd fabricated the allegation, according to confidential interviews conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The girls were forced to wear the shackles 12 hours a day and were only freed when they slept.

The Mississippi Department of Human Services has launched a formal investigation. In a statement released last Friday, DHS Executive Director Don Taylor said that he had suspended some Columbia administrators.

"f these allegations are true," Taylor said in the statement, "we must consider all possible solutions that will prevent this type of mistreatment in the future, including potentially closing training school facilities."

Although he pledged a full investigation, Taylor said nothing about how long the girls were shackled, and he downplayed harm to the girls. "While no serious injuries are asserted in this case, the affected juveniles are receiving medical attention," he said.

A June 4 letter (PDF, 1.9 MB) sent to DHS by SPLC attorney Sheila Bedi painted a starker picture. The letter describes first-hand accounts of injuries, some of which were allegedly photographed by a school nurse. Nearly a week after the incident, girls still had scabs and bruises on their ankles, Bedi told the Jackson Free Press.

DHS Deputy Administrator for Operations Mark Smith said that he could not disclose how many administrators had been suspended or comment on any other aspect of abuse at Columbia. Bedi said she believed that two administrators were suspended, but many staff members should be held responsible.

"The staff at these training schools are mandatory reporters of child abuse, so the fact that this could go on for a week and staff not report it reflects the cultural problems inside these facilities," she said.

In confidential interviews with the SPLC, girls described a wide range of other abuses by staff at Columbia. They said that staff keep the lights on in their sleeping quarters all night, causing sleep deprivation.

Several girls in the Observational Management Unit, a secure facility where girls who might harm themselves are housed, reportedly attempted suicide by slicing their wrists, some with concrete, others with glass. Girls placed on suicide watch sometimes go days without receiving mental health care, and they are not allowed to file abuse grievances against staff, the SPLC reported. Many girls do not use the grievance process at all because counselors allow others girls to read the grievances.

Girls report that staff yell "constantly," using profanity and calling them names. Several girls report that they are denied contact with their families when their counselors are on leave.

Health care at the school is in disarray. In one of the more disturbing allegations, one girl reported that she was sexually assaulted by three other students but not examined by medical staff for three days. She was never taken to the hospital. The student "has not spoken to her mother in many weeks because (school staff) told her it was better if her mother didn't know what had happened to her," the SPLC letter stated.

The training schools have operated under a consent decree with the Department of Justice since 2005, when the state settled lawsuits detailing widespread physical abuse of students. Girls as young as 10 were stripped and shackled in a "Dark Room" at Columbia for days at a time, and students were hog-tied, shackled to poles and forced to eat their own vomit, among many other abuses.

Under the consent decree, Joyce Burrell, a court-appointed monitor, has issued quarterly reports on reforms at the schools that have documented a litany of failures. In her last report, Burrell said that reforms at the schools have stalled, and she expressed grave concerns about inadequate health care and suicide prevention. Burrell complained that DHS and "the state leadership team" have not made reforming the schools a priority.

Bedi said that while she is encouraged that DHS has responded rapidly, these are the same sorts of violations that the federal government found in 2003. "I believe it's reflective of the culture in these facilities," she said. "It's a culture where we treat children as criminals, and we don't value them. In many ways, they've given up on rehabilitating these kids. It's all about control."

Bedi said that the training schools are dangerous to children and a terrible waste of resources. "It would be a shame if this put the state in some sort of prolonged litigation, when the answer just seems incredibly clear. The answer is to close Columbia," she said.

Previous Comments

ID
172888
Comment

I'm going to give this Public Eye a bump. You may have read that Don Taylor issued a statement about girls being shackled at Columbia. However, I just posted a letter from the Southern Poverty Law Center that paints the abuse in much starker terms than Taylor described. For instance, they allegedly shackled the girls for more than a week. Come to the Public Eye and read the letter, which I have in PDF.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2007-06-06T13:49:37-06:00
ID
172889
Comment

This just breaks my heart. Maybe the school needs to be shut down if they can't get it together over there. No man or beast deserves that kind of treatment.

Author
L.W.
Date
2007-06-06T14:03:46-06:00
ID
172890
Comment

These are the attributes of untrained, unskilled and just down right hateful people. You would not treat the worse harden criminal like that. Who could even treat a dog that way? These people should be given the same punishment and after a week, describe and vent their feelings.

Author
justjess
Date
2007-06-08T11:49:49-06:00
ID
172891
Comment

The Clarion-Ledger piece on the hearing yesterday contains something I find shocking. In the second paragraph, Goliath names the 16-year-old girl who testified at the hearings even though the committee expressly asked the media not to name or photograph her. Maybe the reporter got permission from the girl directly, but it troubles me.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2007-06-13T10:05:26-06:00
ID
172892
Comment

I wonder if that's the same girl I saw on the news. I think they talked to her mother, too, so I guess the mother allowed it.

Author
L.W.
Date
2007-06-13T10:28:52-06:00
ID
172893
Comment

please tell me why the public is not out rage about the miss treatment of the children? is it because they deem these children as out cast that cant be redeemed? or may it be that they feel that these children are just a step away from the adult legal system so why give a damn? i need some answers. can someone tell me what is going on?

Author
K. K.
Date
2007-06-22T08:30:18-06:00
ID
172894
Comment

I don't know, K.K. Mississippi's treatment of children is a deep travesty. I believe it's the same reason that people are not more concerned about the young people living in Melton's house, and whether he is guiding them as he should, or the young people's whose rights he violates: They are the weakest members of our society and, overwhelmingly, black. And it's not like the national media are in here doing big exposes on how the state of Mississippi—and thereby all of us—are abusing children on a daily basis, is it?

Author
ladd
Date
2007-06-22T08:34:10-06:00
ID
172895
Comment

You know, maybe we should start a public-awareness campaign, such as we've done on the past on other issues. We could call it: "Mississippi: Stop Abusing Children," and start a petition on the site here demanding that our leaders do something about the horror chambers that are the state's training schools. I mean, who else is going to do it? Let's make it a frackin' campaign issue, at the top of the heap.

Author
ladd
Date
2007-06-22T08:35:59-06:00
ID
172896
Comment

i am one of the mothers of the abused children of columbia training school. my daughter is in worst shape now than when she went in.

Author
K. K.
Date
2007-06-22T08:36:55-06:00
ID
172897
Comment

Donna, you could go to petitiononline.com and create a petition there. I'll sign it, for sure.

Author
L.W.
Date
2007-06-22T08:40:51-06:00
ID
172898
Comment

K.K., I am sorry about what happened to your daughter.

Author
L.W.
Date
2007-06-22T08:43:19-06:00
ID
172899
Comment

i dont understand how the hell do the people that is sworn to protect our children can be the very ones that allow others to abuse the children. that tells me that if a child abuser go get an education and become a high official with a degree, that individual can L E G A L LY abuse children in the state of mississippi WITH A FREE GET OUT OF JAIL PASS. I THINK WE SHOULD DO A CAMPAIGN FOR PREDITORS ALL OF THE UNITED STATES TO COME LIVE IN THE STATE OF MISSISISSIPPI. ONLY IF THE PREDITORS HAVE A DEGREE IS HE/SHE TO MOVE TO MISSISSIPPI SO THEY CAN LEGALLY ABUSE CHILDREN. THEY WILL CATCH EVEN THE DUMBESS PERSON'S EYE.

Author
K. K.
Date
2007-06-22T08:48:57-06:00
ID
172900
Comment

I WILL SIGN THE PETITION ALSO.

Author
K. K.
Date
2007-06-22T08:51:17-06:00
ID
172901
Comment

YES, I KNOW ABUSING CHILDREN IS WRONG, HOWEVER, DO THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI. OR SHOULD I ASK IF DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES KNOW THAT????

Author
K. K.
Date
2007-06-22T08:54:18-06:00
ID
172902
Comment

CAN I GET JUST ONE PERSON, TO TELL ME, WHY HAVE NOT WE HEARD ANYTHING ELSE ABOUT THE ABUSE OF THE CHILDREN THAT WAS UNDER THE WATCHFUL EYE OF DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES. IF I GO STAND INFRONT OF THE BUILDING OF DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES SIGNS OF MY OWN, WILL I BE ARRESTED AND WILL THIS NEW PAPER BE THERE TO RECORD AND TAKE PICTURES OF MY GOING TO JAIL???

Author
K. K.
Date
2007-06-22T08:58:39-06:00
ID
172903
Comment

I WILL BE STANDING IN FRONT OF DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES IN JACKSON, MS. WITH MY SIGNS, ASKING "WHAT ARE THEY GOING TO DO ABOUT THE ABUSE OF MY CHILD"

Author
K. K.
Date
2007-06-22T09:03:36-06:00
ID
172904
Comment

Well we know Ed Peter's and Blunston didn't care about abuse of children either back in '93!

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-06-22T09:05:31-06:00
ID
172905
Comment

PIKERSAM, WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THIS, IF ANYTHING??

Author
K. K.
Date
2007-06-22T09:12:00-06:00
ID
172906
Comment

I'm rightfully appalled. What makes me sicker is that supposed champions of "child abuse," like Bill O'Reilly, just ignore Mississippi. Then you have crap like this: Although he pledged a full investigation, Taylor said nothing about how long the girls were shackled, and he downplayed harm to the girls. "While no serious injuries are asserted in this case, the affected juveniles are receiving medical attention," he said. Gee... Just like he downplayed questions Kim Wade brought up about Melton's questionable foster care of youths by saying "well Frank is a friend of mine." WTF?!?

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-06-22T09:19:53-06:00
ID
172907
Comment

pikersam, thank you very much for letting me know your view.

Author
K. K.
Date
2007-06-22T09:24:19-06:00
ID
172908
Comment

Personally, I've seen no evidence that "Col. Taylor" is particularly concerned about children. And, yes, I remember those rather remarkable remarks to Kim Wade about his "friend" Melton. I guess that explains why they have shown no interest in the kids in his house? And K.K., please don't type in all-caps. It's hard to read.

Author
ladd
Date
2007-06-22T09:24:49-06:00
ID
172909
Comment

Never mind, K.K. ;-)

Author
ladd
Date
2007-06-22T09:25:32-06:00
ID
172910
Comment

sorry for the caps. where is Col. Taylor's office? i would love to go stand in front of his office next week also.

Author
K. K.
Date
2007-06-22T09:27:50-06:00
ID
172911
Comment

can you tell me of all of the top officials that are sworn in to protect children. and i will make arrangements to go stand in front of all of their offices and do a woman stand against the abuse of my child. it will also be a peaceful stand against the abuse of my child.

Author
K. K.
Date
2007-06-22T09:31:59-06:00
ID
172912
Comment

maybe i can get someone but but them under the spot light. maybe that will also bring some national coverage to this problem that i have.

Author
K. K.
Date
2007-06-22T09:33:43-06:00
ID
172913
Comment

NO JUSTICE, NO EAT........ NO JUSTICE, NO EAT...... NO JUSTICE, NO EAT........ NO JUSTICE, NO EAT.......

Author
K. K.
Date
2007-06-22T09:35:09-06:00
ID
172914
Comment

K. K., I sent you an e-mail offline, but just in case that doesn't get through, please contact me to talk further about your child and the training schools in general. Write me at [email]brian@jacksonfreepress.com[/email] or call 601-362-6121, ext. 7. I really want to talk to you!

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2007-06-22T09:40:08-06:00
ID
172915
Comment

TO: COL. TAYLOR, DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, MISSISSIPPI TRAINING SCHOOL STAFF MEMBERS, THE GOVERNORS OFFICE, ALL SENITORS::: lOVE children, CARE FOR children, READ TO children, TEACH children, RUN FOR children, REACH OUT TO children, FEED children, WATCHOUT FOR children. CRY WITH AND FOR children, PLAY WITH children, EMBRACE children, RAISE children, STAND BY children, EAT WITH children, PRAY FOR AND WITH children....... STOP ADDING TO THE ABUSE OF OUR CHILDREN.

Author
K. K.
Date
2007-06-22T09:46:15-06:00
ID
172916
Comment

Everytime I see Bluntson on TV, I think of what happened at the juvinile detention center. He was so outspoken last evening about the 12 year old who was killed. He too has killed the lives of so many young girls. a bullet is not the only weapon of destruction.

Author
justjess
Date
2007-06-22T10:06:43-06:00
ID
172917
Comment

i want to know if there is someone out there that will sponsor me and my cause. i need to be in jackson area and it is a big distance from where i live, i am going to need my expenses covered. a mother on a mission.

Author
K. K.
Date
2007-06-22T18:01:01-06:00
ID
172918
Comment

K.K., I suggest that you talk directly to the JFP. Maybe they can help you organize a way to do this.

Author
L.W.
Date
2007-06-22T18:26:30-06:00
ID
172919
Comment

l.w. thank you for your suggestion,i will do just that

Author
K. K.
Date
2007-06-23T03:22:15-06:00
ID
172920
Comment

have anyone read the recent article about 6 of the columbia training school staff member has been suspended with pay

Author
K. K.
Date
2007-06-26T12:38:08-06:00
ID
172921
Comment

Why doesn't anyone care about the abuse, neglect and torture of those children at the Columbia Mississippi Training School? Don't we know that those children are going to grow up and be apart of our society? I don't know about you guys but I would like to get those children the care and help that they need now rather than later. If those children don't get the care to deal with the abuse, neglect and torture that they endured now, I don't think we are going to be ready to deal with it later. When the children start to express the aggression and anger that will be shown to many unsuspecting Innocent people that don't know what is going on, "Mississippi is going to have hell on their hands", and then the State of Mississippi is going to be trying to give these children the death penalty which is lethal injection.

Author
K. K.
Date
2007-06-26T12:39:58-06:00
ID
172922
Comment

I don't know about you guys but I would like to get those children the care and help that they need now rather than later. There are folks, watching [to take action] how this is being handled. The children's human rights have been violated, which is against not only federal law, but international law. I agree, now, rather than later, is what is needed. So, keep the push on. I may not be able to offset your travel expenses, but there are other ways your cause can be helped, and that I will do. Also, and then the State of Mississippi is going to be trying to give these children the death penalty which is lethal injection. The law does not allow such actions to the infirm, that is illegal. So, keep the faith and press on! Prophet

Author
Prophet
Date
2007-06-26T13:42:51-06:00
ID
172923
Comment

Thank you Prophet for your private email. It was up lefting to my mind, heart and eyes. sincerly, k.k

Author
K. K.
Date
2007-06-26T16:54:51-06:00
ID
172924
Comment

Can you hear that? ((((( "HELP ME, HELP ME"))))) ((((( "STOP IT, YOU ARE HURTING ME"))))) Those are the very words that was cried out by the abused, neglected and tortures YOUTHS of columbia training school.

Author
K. K.
Date
2007-06-26T17:06:18-06:00
ID
172925
Comment

THE CLARION LEDGER HAS PRINTED THE CURRENT ARTICLE ABOUT THE 6 STAFF MEMBERS BEING SUSPENDED WITH PAY

Author
K. K.
Date
2007-06-26T17:15:34-06:00
ID
172926
Comment

The Department of Justice is at the Columbia Mississippi Training School. They will be at Columbia training school for 2 days and at Oakley Training School in Raymond, Mississippi for 2 days.

Author
K. K.
Date
2007-06-26T17:19:02-06:00
ID
172927
Comment

I really do not think Columbia training school conditions will ever get better, it will only get worst. Keeping that hell hole open will only make the abuse, neglect and torture of these children harder to catch and expose. Columbia staff and representatives have proven that they are not trust worthy to protect and care for our children because they want to cover up the abuse, neglect and torture of our children. Instead of protection the children, Representatives are protecting their jobs. I have always said, "If there were no abuse and neglected children, DHS workers would not have jobs" DHS are not willing to fix any of the hazardous conditions at that campus. They are the equivalent of a slum landlord. Slum landlords only do cosmetic work that would appear to the eyes as work that has been correctly done; however, we know that if we remove the cosmetic work we will expose a hazardous condition that will cause death to everyone around. These The abuse, neglect and torture of these children were leaked by staff members with morals and ethics. The ones with morals and ethics are not talking because the consequences of being a whistle blower are great than to be a child abuser. I would not be reacting like this if the ones who committed the acts were held accountable with sever consequences. Instead of dealing with the individuals that violated these children, DHS is trying to find out who is the whistle blower. I really do think, if someone was appointed to be a watch dog over all DHS cases, we all would be ready to criminal be ready to go after most of those dirt social workers. They misrepresent cases to make sure that they get those big mileage checks, and to make sure they get there quotas.

Author
K. K.
Date
2007-07-03T20:35:41-06:00

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