Juan Cloy remembers being suspended when he was at Provine High School in the 1980s. He and several friends got in a fight with some kids from the neighborhood at school. Everyone involved got suspended.
A Mississippi woman who was jailed for seven days for owing $1,000-plus in court fees had custody of her baby given to her mother. Fearing she would be jailed again, she didn’t return to court to get back custody and believed she couldn’t have contact with her infant.
After 14 months, she found legal help that returned her child to her. The city shut down the court of the judge who had issued the original order.
In a state regularly beset by lawsuits about conditions at some of its juvenile detention centers, an official Mississippi task force is starting work on diversion and setting higher standards. “This lack of sufficient staff has caused the facility to practice imminent and deliberate harm to youth … the facility is forced to place the kids on lockdown most of the day; not because they want to, but because it’s the only way to maintain any type of control,” reads a court-appointed inspector’s report on the Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center in Hinds County, Mississippi. “This lack of appropriate staffing dictates the level of violence that is experienced in the facility.”
The lockup for up to 84 youth is unclean and “has a dungeon-like feeling.” Two juveniles admitted to the facility were allowed no phone call or shower. While there’s some limited recreational programming for boys, there’s none apparent for girls. That July 2012 report is a recent, but not unique, verdict on some of Mississippi’s juvenile detention centers.
The federal Department of Justice (DOJ) is suing the Mississippi county, city and judges who they say systematically ignore youthful defendants’ rights, resulting in a well-beaten path from school to incarceration. “The department is bringing this lawsuit to ensure that all children are treated fairly and receive the fullest protection of the law,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the DOJ Civil Rights Division, in a written statement on Oct. 24. The suit is being brought against the city of Meridian, Lauderdale County, the two judges of the county Youth Court and the state of Mississippi.“It is in all of our best interests to ensure that children are not incarcerated for alleged minor infractions, and that police and courts meet their obligations to uphold children’s constitutional rights,” he wrote. The DOJ published preliminary accusations against the now-defendants some 10 weeks ago, threatening a lawsuit if the Mississippians did not cooperate.