On July 11, 2007, a group of teenage girls in the Columbia Training School, a state-run reform school in Mississippi, filed a class-action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 against the State of Mississippi in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. Mississippi ...
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On July 11, 2007, a group of teenage girls in the Columbia Training School, a state-run reform school in Mississippi, filed a class-action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 against the State of Mississippi in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. Mississippi Protection and Advocacy Inc., a congressionally authorized nonprofit organization that enforces the civil rights of people with disabilities, is also a plaintiff in the suit. The plaintiffs are represented by the Bazelon Center, the Mississippi Youth Justice Project (MYJP), which is a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Robert B. McDuff, a civil rights attorney in Jackson, Mississippi.
The plaintiff girls range in age from 13 to 17. All suffer from mental illnesses and all were committed to Columbia for non-violent offenses. Most are victims of past physical or sexual abuse, and they allege that the defendants have violated their constitutional rights by subjecting them to "horrendous" physical and sexual abuse. The complaint asks the court to require the state to provide federally required mental health and rehabilitative treatment to girls confined in the Columbia Training School. Specifically, they allege the following: 1) In an apparent response to unsubstantiated allegations that they planned to escape, five of the plaintiffs were shackled around their ankles for 12 hours a day for periods ranging from eight days to a month. They had to eat, attend school, use the bathroom, participate in recreational activities and visit with their families while wearing the painful shackles. 2) One girl was sexually assaulted by a male employee of the facility while she was confined in a segregated area. She reported the assault but was never informed of the results of an investigation and never received counseling to help her deal with the trauma. 3) Three of the girls cut themselves while on suicide watch. None of them received any psychological help during their isolation. No attempt was made to stabilize their moods, and staff members failed to perform periodic checks to ensure their safety. One girl was placed in a cell alone for 14 hours, during which time she carved the words "HATE ME" into her forearm. One sliced her wrists with glass, and another sliced her wrists on the edge of her concrete bunk.
According to a press release discussing the complaint, most of the girls at Columbia were sent there for nonviolent offenses such as shoplifting, running away, disorderly conduct and other minor offenses, and most could be treated far more effectively - at half the cost - in community-based programs that focus on rehabilitation and mental health treatment. The State of Mississippi spends $5 million a year to house an average of 60 girls at Columbia.
After the case was filed, the state decided to close the Columbia facility, rendering the claim for injunctive relief moot. In September 2008, the plaintiffs amended their complaint: they dropped the claims for injunctive relief so that only three claims for damages remained. The following summer, two of the defendants moved to dismiss the claims. According to the plaintiffs' Motion for Relief filed August 18, 2009, the plaintiffs inadvertently failed to respond to this motion, and the court entered an order granting the request to dismiss and ordering the plaintiffs to show cause why the entire action should not be dismissed. The court allowed the case to proceed for several more months, but after the case failed to settle, the court dismissed the case with prejudice on June 17, 2010. We have no further information about a possible settlement for damages on the remaining claims. Elizabeth Daligga - 07/27/2012