Federal judge lifts court order on Mississippi youth jail

JACKSON, Miss (AP) — A federal judge has lifted a decade-long federal consent decree governing a youth jail in Mississippi’s capital city.

The original court order was handed down in 2012 and extended several times. In an Oct. 13 ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Daniel P. Jordan agreed to Hinds County’s request to terminate the consent decree on the Henley-Young Patton Juvenile Justice Center in Jackson.

The decree, which ordered the jail to improve its conditions, stemmed from a 2011 class action lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and Disability Rights Mississippi. The suit alleged “inhuman and unconstitutional practices” at the facility, “including regularly isolating children in small cells for 20-23 hours a day and subjecting them to sensory deprivation.”

Children “languished in their cells, receiving sporadic access to educational services and counseling services,” according to court records. The suit also alleged that detainees with serious mental health needs were “frequently denied the services necessary to treat their conditions.”

County officials say conditions have improved inside the jail. With the decree lifted, the jail can increase the number of detainees it holds at one time.

“For (10) years, the county has operated under that consent decree, but as a result of the strides we’ve made, as well as the steps taken by our most recent board (of supervisors) over the last year, the court has allowed us to terminate the decree,” said Tony Gaylor, an attorney for the Hinds County Board of Supervisors. “It was battle that involved a lot of expenditures and several monitors from all over the country, but many changes have taken place.”

In March, the county asked for the decree to be lifted, citing rising crime numbers among young people, according to WLBT-TV. With the federal order lifted, the facility can bring in more detainees.

Jail officials said issues arose after the jail had to start housing juveniles charged as adults. Those detainees could no longer be held at Raymond Detention Center. Another federal judge seized control of the Raymond Detention Center in July, citing “severely deficient” conditions at the facility.

Marshand Crisler, Henley-Young’s executive director, said the jail has enough beds to detain up to 80 juvenile detainees, but it could only hold 32 people under the federal order. “Yet, youth in the ‘free world’ throughout the county continue to commit crimes that are serious enough to cause those juveniles to be charged as adults,” Crisler said.

Eric Dorsey, the quality assurance coordinator for Henley-Young, said the county has revised or created 115 new policies in response to the consent decree.

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