In 2002, the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division ("DOJ") conducted investigations, aided by expert consultants in juvenile justice administration, psychology, medicine, education, and sanitation, at two military-style juvenile facilities ("Oakley" and "Columbia") operated by the state of Mississippi. In June 2003, DOJ notified the state in a findings letter that the investigations revealed that the facilities deprived the resident juveniles of rights under the First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42 U.S.C. § 14141, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1401, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794.
DOJ found that youth confined at Oakley and Columbia suffered harm or the risk of harm from deficiencies in the facilities' provision of (1) mental health and medical care, (2) protection of juveniles from harm (including physical harm from staff), and (3) juvenile justice management (lack of due process and adequate grievance procedures, untrained staff, mail/telephone/visitation inadequacies, and limited exercise opportunities). DOJ also found sanitation deficiencies at Oakley. In addition, both facilities failed to provide required general education services, as well as education to eligible youth as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The First Amendment violations were rooted in both facilities' requiring youth to engage in religious activities. The findings letter proposed a number of remedial measures for the state to adopt, offered to negotiate with the state to reach a resolution of the allegations, and stated that a federal lawsuit could soon be filed against the state if a negotiated settlement could not be reached.
On December 18, 2003, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, the DOJ filed a lawsuit against the state (and relevant juvenile justice-related state officials and agencies). Among the allegations were the defendants' failure to adequately protect youth from harm and the risk of harm (including staff abuse) at these facilities, unreasonable isolation and restraint use, failure to provide adequate mental and medical health care and rehabilitative treatment, inadequate educational services, and failure to provide adequate special education services to disabled youth (mentally ill, those with intellectual disabilities, and learning disabled youth). The DOJ sought declaratory and equitable relief, relying upon authority granted by 42 U.S.C. § 14141.
In the meantime, in an originally-separate class action case filed April 13, 2004, against the state and involving these two juvenile facilities, a settlement had been reached to remedy the facilities' limits on juvenile residents' contacts with their attorneys. By the time the settlement was reached on January 12, 2005, that case had been consolidated with the DOJ's case pursuant to an unpublished July 12, 2004, order of Magistrate Judge James C. Sumner. Lawyers from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Mississippi Center for Justice had represented the juvenile plaintiff in the 2004 case, K.L.W. v. James.
Later in 2005, separate agreements were reached between the DOJ and the state to address the shortcomings at the juvenile facilities that were alleged in the 2003 DOJ lawsuit. In a May 4, 2005, memorandum of agreement, the parties detailed means of remedying deficiencies in mental health care, rehabilitative services, and special education. On June 9, 2005, the parties filed an agreement setting out remedial measures to address protection from harm, suicide prevention, and medical and dental care issues. Both agreements included provisions for compliance and quality assurance, for monitoring and enforcement, imposed reporting requirements and rights of access, and set out implementation and termination procedures. District Judge Henry T. Wingate approved the settlement and received the subsequently-filed periodic monitor's reports.
An Amendment to Consent Decree was filed with the court on February 26, 2008, which extended its provisions to May 31, 2010, appointed two court monitors, set out deadlines for receiving detailed action plans from those monitors, and addressed compliance with the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3626(a).
In 2010, the court ordered the Consent Decree amended to dismiss certain provisions and modify others. The court required the defendant to develop a comprehensive action plan for the substantive remedial areas of the Agreement. This Action Plan was filed with the court on September 16, 2010.
Monitoring continued, and on April 12, 2013, parties advised the court that the state has satisfied the requirements in the major substantive areas of the Consent Decree. The only remaining action at that point was implementation of the Quality Assurance program.
On September 17, 2013, the court (Judge Wingate) signed an Agreed Order Terminating Specific Provisions of the Amended Consent Decree, in which parties agreed that the state had met its burden of remaining in substantial compliance for a period of six months with regards to all remaining provisions of the Consent Decree. Following the twenty-first Monitor’s Report, Judge Wingate terminated the Consent Decree and its associated Orders and finally dismissed the case with prejudice Elizabeth Daligga - 07/26/2012
Frances Hollander - 02/21/2016