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In my most recent post I said that I would continue my investigation of what I termed an epidemic” of abuse inside juvenile institutions. This led me first to the state of Mississippi.

In Mississippi the situation has become so bad that a special web site has been set up devoted to following the issue. It is called A Mississippi Gulag.” Back in 2002 the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) began an investigation of the conditions inside the Oakley Training School in Raymond, Mississippi and the Columbia Training School in Columbia, Mississippi. In June, 2003 they issued a report submitted to the Governor of the state. Among other things, the report concluded: We find that conditions at Oakley and Columbia violate the constitutional and statutory rights of juveniles. Youth confined at Oakley and Columbia suffer harm or the risk of harm from deficiencies in the facilities’ provision of mental health and medical care, protection of juveniles from harm, and juvenile justice management. There are also sanitation deficiencies at Oakley. In addition, both facilities fail to provide required general education services as well as education to eligible youth…” Space does not permit a complete review of this report, but one thing caught my eye immediately and it was the following description of the training school for boys at Oakley: Oakley Training School, also known as the Mississippi Youth Correctional Complex, sits on approximately 1,068 acres of land surrounded by agricultural fields in Raymond, Mississippi, which is approximately 30 minutes outside of Jackson, Mississippi. Oakley is designed to function as a paramilitary program for delinquent boys.” This program [the program] imposes a military style discipline on youth and is purported to promote a vigorous physical fitness training program.” The state settled the suit and promised to make changes, but in 2006 a federal court monitor noted that few if any changes have actually been made.” It was revealed that: In addition to being hog-tied and left for days in pitch-black cells, children ages 10 to 17 were sometimes sprayed with chemicals during mandatory exercises and forced to eat their own vomit. Other youth were forced to run with automobile tires around their necks or mattresses on their backs.” Mississippi Youth Justice Project (MYJP) co-director Ellen Reddy stated that: At best, the training schools do nothing but warehouse children. At worst, our children experience gross abuse and neglect when sent away from their home communities,” In a separate story posted on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s web site Rhonda Brownstein, the Legal Director of the Center, stated that: What the investigation reported is nothing short of torture. These abuses are the kind of things you would hear about in some torture chamber in a Third World country. This is not how we treat our children in the United States.” In a related story it was reported that the SPLC has filed a lawsuit against Mississippi concerning the lack of mental health treatment available for youth charging that the state fails to invest in community-based services and instead pumps the bulk of its resources into ineffective, expensive institutions.” In October of 2009 the SPLC filed yet another suit concerning conditions at the Lauderdale County Juvenile Detention Center charging, among other things, that: Youths endured physical and mental abuse as they were crammed into small, filthy cells and tormented with pepper spray for even minor infractions. Many of the youths had mental illnesses or learning disabilities. They were either awaiting court hearings or serving sentences for mostly non-violent offenses. During one three-week stretch, a 17-year-old girl, identified in the suit as J.A., languished in her small cell for 23 hours a day. Most of the children were allowed to leave their cells for only one to two hours a day.” Then there is the story of 14-year-old black youth named Martin Lee Anderson who died at the hands of several guards in a boot camp in Florida. There is a video showing the incident. An all-white jury acquitted the guards. 

Most recently a series of reports in the New York Times revealed rampant abuse within several detention centers in New York State. One story, dated August 25, 2009, noted that Children at four juvenile detention centers in New York were so severely abused by workers that it constituted a violation of their constitutional rights, according to a report by the United States Department of Justice made public on Monday.”

My search will continue. I wonder where it will end.