The Southern Poverty Law Center and Disability Rights Mississippi have won access to youth held at the Hinds County Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center. A federal judge ruled Monday that facility officials cannot continue to block attorneys and advocates from meeting with youths.
"This ruling will not only ensure the children held at this abusive facility are able to access attorneys and advocates but it also makes clear that juvenile detention facilities must operate with transparency and cannot shield child abuse," Jody Owens, director of the SPLC's Mississippi office, said in a news release. "Moving forward we hope the county will work with us to address and end the ongoing constitutional violations at the facility instead of continuing to spend taxpayer money in an effort to hide these abuses."
The county youth detention center denied the groups access after they filed a federal lawsuit in early June that detailed abuse and unconstitutional conditions at the facility. Officials denied the SPLC and DRMS access to their existing clients held at the center.
The SPLC and DRMS attempted to work collaboratively with the county to reinstate access to the detention center, but say that the county repeatedly rejected or ignored the requests. The groups contended that the county's actions violated the rights of these children to meet with their attorneys and the right of these groups to monitor and enforce the rights of children with disabilities at Henley-Young.
DRMS and the SPLC monitor conditions at juvenile detention centers throughout the state and serve as advocates for children when their rights are violated. DRMS is a nonprofit agency with a federal mandate to protect the rights of people with disabilities. Under this mandate, its representatives have a right to enter the facility, interview children, assess the conditions and work with the county to address violations.
The SPLC claims that Hinds County facility violated the constitutional rights of children by subjecting them to prolonged isolation and sensory deprivation, denying them mental health services and subjecting them to verbal abuse and threats of physical harm.
See our earlier stories about the Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center:
Trouble at Hinds Youth Detention Center
Hinds Youth Center Director Resigns
Did County Know of Abuse at Detention Center?
Detaining Disabled Kids: Who Decides?