One month after a federal court ordered sweeping changes at a troubled juvenile prison in rural Mississippi, the private company managing the prison has announced it is pulling out of the state. A report by the Justice Department describes “systemic, egregious and dangerous practices” at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility.
As those words imply, the official report is scathing.
Federal Judge Carlton Reeves wrote that the youth prison “has allowed a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions to germinate, the sum of which places the offenders at substantial ongoing risk.”
Walnut Grove, located an hour’s drive east of Jackson, is a 1,450-bed prison that houses inmates ages 13 to 22 who are minors convicted as adults. It is run by GEO Group of Boca Raton, Fla., the nation’s second-largest for-profit prison corporation,which posted a profit of $284 million last year. The Mississippi Department of Corrections pays GEO to manage the prison.
Jonathan Smith is chief of special litigation in the civil rights section at the Justice Department, which spent two years looking into conditions at Walnut Grove.
"To have a prison that’s chaotic, poorly run, dangerous, didn’t provide services, highly sexualized and highly violent really limits the ability of the state to turn those folks around, and to ensure public safety upon their release from prison," Smith said.
Among the conditions described in the report released last month:
* Prison staff had sex with incarcerated youth, which investigators called “among the worst that we’ve seen in any facility anywhere in the nation.”
* Poorly trained guards brutally beat youth and used excessive pepper spray as a first response.
* The prison showed “deliberate indifference” to prisoners possessing homemade knives, which were used in gang fights and inmate rapes.
* Some guards had gang affiliations — a finding confirmed to NPR last year by former inmate Justin Bowling.