Meridian Star

Local News

October 19, 2009

Suit filed over juvenile center

Advocacy group says they were denied access

For years, there have been complaints of sub-standard conditions at the Lauderdale County Juvenile Detention Facility, and now, those complaints have led to a lawsuit.

Reports of poor conditions from the Lauderdale County Grand Jury, the state's detention monitoring unit, and children who have been detained in the facility prompted an advocacy group called Disability Rights Mississippi to attempt to enter the facility in order to assess the allegations.

DRMS is now suing the county, not over the allegations, but for being denied access to the facility. DRMS is the plaintiff in the suit, which was filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Eastern Division.

Lee Thaggard, the attorney representing Lauderdale County in the case, said the county does not make any statements on current litigation.

Poonam Juneja of the Southern Poverty Law Center, who was identified as the principal attorney on the case during a press conference Monday, said DRMS has a right under federal law to inspect the facility.

"We're seeking access to the juvenile detention center, which we're guaranteed under federal law," she said in an interview Monday, adding "We've heard persistent reports of abusive conditions from a number of credible sources... These reports have been ongoing for years."

They include, she said, reports that pepper spray is used on children for minor infractions such as talking too much, that children are denied medical, and mental health, and educational services, that they are kept in unsanitary and overcrowded conditions, and that they are confined to their cells for upwards of 23 hours per day, being released only long enough to shower once a day.

DRMS attempted to access the facility so that they could assess the conditions and interview the children detained there, according to a written statement.

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