On November 16, 2010, thirteen boys and young men incarcerated at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility ("WGYCR") in Leakes County, Mississippi, filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, against the city entity responsible for operating WGYCR (the Walnut Grove Correctional Authority), the for-profit corporations under contract to manage the facility (GEO Group, Inc.) and provide medical care for the prisoners (Health Assurance, L.L.C.), several officials at WGYCR, and the Mississippi Departments of Corrections and Education. The plaintiffs, represented by the Mississippi Youth Justice Project, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Prison Project of the ACLU, and private counsel, challenged what they referred to as the "barbaric, unconstitutional conditions" of confinement at WGYCR.
Plaintiffs alleged that staff and officials at WGYCR (1) instigated or were complicit in prisoner-on-prisoner violence and sexual assaults, (2) dealt and allowed the dealing of drugs within the facility, (3) engaged in sexual misconduct with the prisoners, (4) used excessive force (including chemical restraints) on the prisoners, (5) placed prisoners in punitive isolation with no penological justification, and (6) failed to provide urgently needed medical and mental health care to prisoners, all in violation of the Eight Amendment; and (7) failed to provide education for prisoners of school age and special education for prisoners with disabilities in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, §§ 1400 et seq., Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 et seq., and state law. Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief.
Counsel for the plaintiffs had begun investigating the conditions at the WGYCR in 2006, and in fact had already begun settlement negotiations with the defendants prior to filing suit. As the parties were negotiating throughout the course of the action, very little appears on the docket but extensions of deadlines; notably, however, all defendants but the Mississippi Departments of Corrections and Education were released by the plaintiffs on November 15, 2011, with the understanding that the Departments could provide plaintiffs with the complete relief they sought.
Negotiations continued until February 3, 2012, when the parties submitted their proposed settlement agreement to the District Court. The agreement consisted of two consent decrees, one pertaining to present and future prisoners at the WGYCR and one pertaining to all prisoners in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections ("MDOC") who were age 17 or under or who were age 18 or 19 and housed in the Youthful Offender Unit. Under the terms of the first consent decree, MDOC agreed (1) to limit the use of force at WGYCF to that necessary to safely contain prisoners, to get the Warden's approval for the use of force, and to document any use of force with audio-visual recordings and in writing; (2) to limit and document the use of chemical restraints; (3) to limit the use of long-term cell confinement and isolation to certain specific circumstances; (4) to guarantee disciplinary due process and an create an adequate grievance procedure; (5) to implement an adequate and humane suicide prevention policy; and (6) to provide "adequate, appropriate, and timely" medical, dental and mental health care. The decree also arranged for the appointment of monitors to work with MDOC to create appropriate policies and enforce compliance, and gave the monitors and plaintiffs' counsel complete access to the WGYCF facility and records. If plaintiffs believed defendants were not in compliance with the decree, they could seek enforcement by the Court after fulfilling notice and cure requirements, and no class member was barred by the decree from bringing individual suit against the defendants. The decree was to last for five years, but could end sooner if the Court found the WGYCF had been in compliance for two years and could be extended up to two years if the Court found that MDOC had failed to substantially comply.
The second consent decree arranged for the creation of a Youthful Offender Unit ("YOU") at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility to house all prisoners age 17 or under who are in MDOC custody, and certain prisoners age 18 and 19. The terms for YOU are similar to those for WGYCF, with the notable differences that solitary confinement is prohibited entirely, a focus is placed on rehabilitative programming, and a visitation policy is specifically addressed.
After fairness hearings on March 22, 2012, the District Court (Judge Carlton W. Reeves) granted final approval for the consent decrees on March 26 and certified the two classes for the purpose of the settlements.
On May 29, 2012, the Court held an emergency hearing, requested by plaintiffs in light of two incidents, a rape and a stabbing, that had occurred after the consent decrees went into effect. The parties agreed that defendants would alert plaintiffs' counsel if there were any further incidents of violence at the facility, and that they would work together to keep further incidents from occurring as the consent decrees took effect and changed began to be made.
On July 2, 2012, a new company, MTC, took over management of WGYCF from GEO.
As of the date of this summary, there have been no further developments.Christopher Schad - 07/17/2012