Report by Ralph F. Boyd, Jr., Assistant Attorney General submitted on June 19, 2003 to Mississippi Governor Ronnie Musgrove

Pages 25-36         Return to Pages 13-24


Oakley. Intake medical staff did not note this on his initial health assessment and other staff were reportedly unaware of his asthma until he suffered from shortness of breath for several days while in military training. At both facilities, past health records from medical providers and basic but necessary health information from parents or guardians are almost never obtained or requested.

3. Sick Call

The Acting Head Nurse reportedly curses at youth, ignores medical requests, fails to provide medical advice to girls about their female conditions, and consistently prevents youth’s access to the doctor.
        Youth must be provided sick call in a clinical setting where they can discuss health problems confidentially with a qualified clinician. Neither Oakley nor Columbia have an adequate sick call protocol. At Columbia, youth must verbally tell cottage staff that they need to see the nurse. Staff sometimes disregard the requests, and other times call the nurse to evaluate the problem. The nurse may or may not see the child depending on what the staff tells her about the problem over the telephone. Youth may have an opportunity to see the nurse when she makes medication rounds in the cottages or at other times she happens to be in the cottages. This evaluation is not done confidentially, but where cottage staff and other residents are present. The Acting Head Nurse reportedly curses at youth, ignores medical requests, fails to provide medical advice to girls about their female conditions, and consistently prevents youth’s access to the doctor. This nurse has denied assistance to girls who felt faint and dizzy from exercising in the heat. In one instance, a girl was injured after falling on her knee which swelled into a large knot. Staff allowed her to see the Acting Head nurse in the cafeteria. The nurse did nothing for her knee. When this youth saw another nurse, she referred her to the physician who treated her knee.
4. Inadequate Dental Care

The only services that were provided were extractions.
        Columbia and Oakley do not have adequate dental programs. The medical policies and procedures for both facilities do not require routine initial dental assessments. Initial dental assessments and treatment should be part of the overall health assessment of every youth admitted to Oakley and Columbia. Columbia has not had a contract dentist since December 2001. Therefore, dental screening, examination, and oral hygiene, among other important components of an adequate dental care program, were non-existent. It appears that when Columbia did have a dentist, the only services that were provided were extractions.


Dental treatment is necessary to both maintain and restore oral structures.

        The dental program at Oakley raised additional concerns. The dentist did not provide adequate dental examinations. His dental assessments involved a simple inspection of the mouth without the aid of a light or a dental explorer. We learned that the dentist’s contract was not renewed after our first tour. However, it is unclear whether Oakley has contracted with another dentist for services. In any case, no dentist should provide services to youth in the dental clinic we observed. The clinic was extremely dirty and contained mouse droppings and cob webs. Medications in the cabinets had expired between 1991 and 1995. Needles and other instruments were lying on counters and in unlocked drawers. We recommended during our first tour of Oakley that the dental clinic be shut down immediately until it is thoroughly cleaned.

E. Education

        Youth at Oakley and Columbia are entitled to an adequate education and vocational training during commitment. Morgan v. Sproat, 432 F. Supp. 1130, 1140-41 (S.D. Miss. 1977) (Oakley must provide sufficient education, vocational training and recreation). The State also is obligated to provide a free and appropriate education to qualified students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Some of the core provisions of the IDEA include parental notification, identification of students who may be eligible for special education, evaluation of new admissions, and individual education plan development and revisions. However, Oakley and Columbia fail to provide these and other general education services such as ensuring that youth receive the required number of class hours per day and educational services within a reasonable amount of time after commitment. They also fail to provide most special education services and fail to properly screen for youth who may be in need of such services.

1. Delay in Providing Educational Services

Oakley and Columbia youth do not attend school for several weeks after admission. At Oakley, the administrator, school principal, staff, and youth told us that youth committed for the first time receive no education for three weeks. Youth who are


re-committed receive no education for five weeks. We also found that youth were denied access to education services for periods longer than three and five weeks. We found that Oakley did not have any policies governing these practices, which violate the Mississippi Compulsory School Attendance Law.16 Pursuant to policy, Columbia youth do not attend school for the first three weeks or more after admission which also is a violation of state compulsory attendance laws and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Donnell C. v. Illinois State Board of Education, 829 F. Supp. 1016, 1018-19 (N.D. Ill. 1993). Unless unforeseen circumstances occur, youth should be provided with educational services soon after admission in accordance with state and federal law.

2. General Education
Although we encountered some well-intentioned teachers and school administrators at both facilities, the structural problems of the school program coupled with the absence of support and resources results in an education program that is sorely inadequate and fails to meet the needs of students.
(a) Programming at Columbia and Oakley
        Columbia has strengths that can be improved upon, such as a school environment that is conducive to learning, properly certified teachers who are given adequate time for planning, adequate space and educational materials, a computer lab, a wellequipped library, and a GED program for age-appropriate girls. In comparison, Oakley’s program suffers from a serious lack of leadership and little staff support. Oakley’s principal admitted that his focus is on Unit Two, leaving the Unit One school program to be administered by an interim facility administrator and Ironwood to be run by a teacher. Oakley’s SIU has no school program. Youth in Unit Two at Oakley were observed simply sitting in class rooms and not engaged in any school work. Teachers typically provide little instruction there or in


        16 We have been informed since our education tour of Oakley that it was changing the structure of its military and education programs to provide youth with education services within one week of admission. We were not provided with documentation of how this transition was to occur nor the current status of its implementation.


Ironwood. The youth in Unit One, however, appeared to be engaged in class room activity.

        Most youth at Oakley and Columbia are not receiving the full state mandated class time, which is a violation of Mississippi’s compulsory education laws.17 Youth routinely are pulled from class for significant periods of time to perform work details or participate in “recreation” such as card playing, contributing to this violation.

        Oakley and Columbia do not have policies to ensure that youth are placed in appropriate classes, have balanced class sizes or are taught appropriate subject matter. Moreover, an analysis of class subjects taken by youth shows that youth are not receiving the full benefit of class instruction in core subjects at either Columbia or Oakley. The population of youth at Columbia and Oakley include those with severe academic deficiencies who function well-below grade level. Yet, only 40 percent of Columbia youth attend classes in the four core academic subjects: math, English, social studies, and science. Otherwise, youth are enrolled in classes such as “Life Skills” and “Family Dynamics.” In light of the population that Columbia serves, these elective courses should be a supplement to the four core subjects, not in place of them. Some core academic courses at Columbia were linked into one class such as “math/science” and “reading/social studies.” While there is a logical integration of these subjects, youth are unable to master all of the competencies required for both courses during a single class period. This is troubling because youths’ grades are forwarded to home schools, reflecting credit for two core classes when they instructionally receive less than that.

        Furthermore, Columbia does not employ substitute teachers to cover classes when teachers are sick or on vacation. When a teacher is absent, youth are regularly placed in “overflow” which means that youth are divided into other classes in session during that time period. Youth reported that they were not given any work to do in these situations, but were required to sit in the class and be silent. There also are no substitute teachers employed at Oakley for absent teachers.


17 Even though Oakley’s and Columbia’s education structure provides for the State mandated 330 minutes of instruction, a majority of the students do not receive 330 minutes of instruction per day.


        School records from youths’ home schools should be obtained so that youth are placed in appropriate classes at Oakley and Columbia. However, we found that youths’ files rarely contained public school records. Neither facility had a protocol for receiving records from non-responsive school systems. We were told during our tour at Columbia that the school planned to be linked to the Mississippi Student Information System which will provide access to youths’ most recent transcripts. However, until that connection is made, Columbia and Oakley must develop a system for receiving and maintaining permanent and cumulative records containing academic information.

(b) Education services for youth in disciplinary isolation
        Youth are not provided with adequate education in the SIUs at Oakley and Columbia. The lack of education in the SIUs at Columbia was the most glaring denial of access to education services in the facilities. Youth can be locked up for two or more weeks without attending school. If a youth is “committed” to the SIU program, then a youth is in lock-up for several months and education is limited and often-times sporadic. The boys in SIU who had access to educational programming received approximately 45 minutes to an hour of class time less than two days per week and did not receive any instruction the week prior to our visit. In addition, all of the boys in the SIU class received the same work assignments despite differences in their ages, abilities, and academic levels. Girls received only two hours of education per day, except on Tuesdays when no academic classes were held.

        At Oakley, youth in the SIU are denied education for the duration of their confinement. Confinement may be for one to seven or more days and students may be sent back to the SIU successively, causing even more disruption in their education. The Ironwood program has one unsupervised teacher responsible for teaching up to 25 youth. Youth in Ironwood receive approximately three hours of instruction two days per week, but not all students receive the benefit of this minimal programming. Some who had been locked in Ironwood 90 days or more reported rarely being taken out of their cells for class and others reported being given materials in their cells, but given no pencils, which limited their ability to do the assignments. We respect the facilities’ legitimate security concerns, however, youth committed to the SIUs should have access to the full range of


educational services in order for Columbia and Oakley to be in compliance with Mississippi compulsory education laws.

3. Special Education
        The problems we encountered with the provision of special education services at both facilities were pervasive. Oakley and Columbia fail to follow key provisions of the IDEA and other special education services mandates. School administrators at both facilities were either unaware of the IDEA or erroneously believed their schools were exempt from its requirements. For instance, Oakley’s principal believed Oakley was exempt from core IDEA provisions because of an agreement between the Mississippi Department of Human Services and Mississippi Department of Education. Oakley and Columbia are not exempt from the IDEA.
(a) Screening, evaluation and identification
        Pursuant to the IDEA, Oakley and Columbia are responsible for screening, evaluating, and identifying youths suspected of having a qualifying disability which would entitle them to special education services. Yet, neither facility has a structured mechanism to screen potentially eligible youth. The facilities rely heavily on school records from community schools to identify youth eligible for special education services. However, youth may not have been attending school regularly prior to their commitment, so reliance on school records alone is not enough. Furthermore, as discussed earlier, we found that youths’ files rarely contained public school records. The IDEA requires that eligibility be determined by a team of qualified professionals, the child, and the parent or guardian, if available.

        Furthermore, we found that ineligible youth are being placed in special education while many other students who may be eligible are never identified and denied access to services in violation of federal law. At Oakley, a youth was given four segments of special education services a day, but the special education teacher could not identify the student’s eligibility for these classes. The student’s file contained no information regarding the reason for placement in special education courses. When asked why this student was in special education, the teacher responded that the student did not do well in math. Six other students’ files contained no information documenting the reason for their placement in special education classes. Another


student was receiving four segments of special education services per day as required by his expired individual education plan. However, his psychological report indicated that his IQ was 66 which brings the appropriateness of his placement at Oakley into question, given that youth with mental retardation are not supposed to be placed at Oakley or Columbia.

(b) Individual Education Plans
        The foundation of the special education process is the development and implementation of an individual education plan (“IEP”) for each qualified youth. See Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305, 311 (1988); see also 34 C.F.R. § 300.341(a). The facilities have failed to create a system of developing, implementing, monitoring, and reviewing students’ IEPs. None of the special education teachers at Oakley were able to produce a current, valid IEP for any of the youth in their classes. Furthermore, IEPs contained identical, rather than individualized, goals and objectives. IEPs did not contain, for example, statements of present levels of performance or measurable annual goals and objectives as required by law, and no IEP meetings have been held, in part, because teachers and administrators were unaware that youth must be re-evaluated periodically to keep IEPs current. Eligible youth must have an IEP completed for each school year. Schools must offer a continuum of placement options for special education students. Oakley only has two of the four options available while Columbia has no options available for eligible youth.

        Parents and guardians at Columbia and Oakley are not notified regarding evaluations, eligibility determinations, placements, or provision of special education services. Parent or guardian participation in every step of the process is a guiding principle of the IDEA which is being violated by both facilities.

(c) Related and Transition Services
        Related services, such as individual and family counseling, speech pathology, and psychological services, must be provided where indicated so that youth receive the maximum benefit of special education. See 34 C.F.R. § 300.24. The few related services that had been available at Columbia have been discontinued and they have never been provided at Oakley.


        Children eligible for special education 14 years of age and older also are entitled to transition services. Transition services include vocational training, continuing education, or employment services. Columbia provides no transition services for students’ re-entry into their home communities -- another violation of federal law. Oakley offers some limited opportunities for vocational training. However, only students who achieve a certain score on the Test of Adult Basic Education are permitted to take the vocational courses. This requirement typically excludes special education children and limits Oakley’s ability to provide legally-required transition services. The vocational program should be expanded and made more inclusive, particularly in the provision of transitional services to special education students.

F. Religion
        Religious activities can further a juvenile facility’s rehabilitative mission. Moreover, Oakley and Columbia must allow youth to engage in religious exercise through voluntary religious activities, unless the facilities can demonstrate that curtailing such activities would be the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling governmental interest. See Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc. However, Oakley and Columbia’s interests in affording youth the benefits of religious activities have led to the “establishment” of religion in violation of the First Amendment by coercing youth to engage in specific religious activities.

        During our first visit to Oakley, we observed youth-led prayer during the graduation ceremony which occurs every Wednesday morning and which youth in Unit Two are required to attend or face discipline. Furthermore, Oakley staff informed us that for two weeks following our visit, the youth would be attending Vacation Bible School. We observed posters containing religious material such as the “The Lord’s Prayer” and other Bible verses hanging on the walls in military training classrooms and in counseling rooms in the cottages. Mandatory prayer and the posting of religious literature in the common areas of state facilities for youth violates the Establishment Clause. See Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962) (holding that classroom prayer at the beginning of each school day violates the Establishment Clause); Stone v. Graham, 449 U.S. 39, 39 (1981) (finding that posting the Ten Commandments on the walls of classrooms violates the Establishment Clause).


        At Columbia, youth are required to attend religious services at the church every Sunday. Some girls reported they would be subject to discipline if they did not sing during services. The facility administrator stated that youth had the option of not attending the Sunday worship services if they chose not to, but both boys and girls indicated that attending Sunday worship services was a requirement or they would be disciplined. Youth also must participate in a religious service in their cottages every Tuesday evening or face discipline. The only reading material the children in the SIUs and some of the housing units are allowed to possess is the Bible. We witnessed a mandatory group counseling session in the boys’ SIU in which youth were required to read Bible verses and sing religious songs.

        In each of these cases, youth were required to engage in specific religious activities and were subject to disciplinary action if they did not participate. As discussed above, these are the same types of activities that the Supreme Court has found to amount to the State sponsorship of particular religious beliefs. Moreover, none of these activities are required to maintain facility security or for any other operational purpose. Therefore, these activities violate the Establishment Clause.

        We emphasize that we are not suggesting that all religious practices at Oakley or Columbia must stop. In fact, the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment protects the youths’ rights to engage in voluntary religious activity. In light of the unique nature of the correctional setting, facilitating juveniles’ religious exercise may require a degree of State involvement in religious activities that would not be appropriate in other settings. For example, courts have held that it is permissible for the State to pay for chaplains in order to accommodate the religious exercise of those under State custody and control. See Katcoff v. Marsh, 755 F.2d 223 (2d Cir. 1985) (upholding military chaplaincy program); Carter v. Broadlawns Medical Center, 857 F.2d 448 (8th Cir. 1988), cert. denied, 489 U.S. 1096 (1989) (holding the county hospital’s hiring of chaplain did not violate the Establishment Clause). Likewise, while having a chapel in a public school would clearly violate the Constitution, chapels are present in most large correctional facilities. Similarly, substance abuse programs that incorporate faith, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, are used by correctional facilities and probation departments throughout the country. Such programs are permissible under the Establishment Clause, though participants objecting to the religious elements must be


given a secular alternative if participation is mandatory. See Warner v. Orange County Dep’t of Probation, 115 F.3d 1068 (2d Cir. 1997).

        To comply with the Constitution, Oakley and Columbia need not excise religion from their facilities or programs. However, they must ensure that they do not coerce the youth to engage in religious activities by making all such activities voluntary. Also, the exhibition of religious posters in common areas should be limited to areas where the juveniles are voluntarily present, such as a room where a religious service or religious instruction is being held.

G. Safety and Sanitation
1. Oakley
Oakley’s buildings and grounds are unsafe and unsanitary, creating unconstitutional confinement conditions for youth.
(a) Physical Plant
        Oakley’s campus contains old administration buildings and housing units which require constant upkeep and maintenance. Unfortunately, Oakley’s maintenance staff consists of four employees who have received little or no training. These four individuals are required to maintain all of the buildings, control pest and rodent infestation, and mow and landscape the expansive grounds. There is no facility safety officer.
(1) Administration Buildings
        The medical and dental clinics pose numerous safety hazards to Oakley’s youth and staff. The Unit II Medical Clinic is a decrepit building with many water leaks that have created structural damage. The isolation room within the building is not equipped or constructed for its purpose which is to isolate youth with respiratory or gastrointestinal problems. Even more concerning is that there is no sterilization equipment in the clinic to clean medical instruments. Moreover, supplies and equipment were not properly stored to maintain any kind of sterilization. The dental clinic had not been cleaned in many months because we observed dirt, spider webs, mouse droppings, and dead roaches everywhere. It was apparent that the clinic has a major insect and rodent infestation.


        The kitchen had several deficiencies. First, rodent and insect infestation are causing unsanitary conditions. We saw mouse droppings in the food storage areas and live and dead cockroaches in the kitchen. Kitchen staff stated that they had to cover food while cooking to prevent cockroaches from falling in from the hood above the stove. Youth also complained about finding roaches in their food. Many areas of the kitchen were unclean and some areas invited roach infestation. Second, water temperatures in the kitchen created unsafe conditions. The temperatures were high enough to cause first degree burns in a matter of seconds. Also, the water temperature and pressure in the dishwashing machine were improperly set so that dishes were not always clean.

        The vocational training area, which includes the auto-body, small engine repair, welding, and carpentry shops, had a number of safety hazards. Our expert observed numerous mislabeled or unlabeled chemicals stored around the trade areas. There were no “Material Safety Data Sheets” relating to the chemicals in these areas, which inform staff how to handle and store this type of material. The sheets also provide important safety and emergency information on the chemicals. For example, a “chemical reducer” was located uncovered on a shelf in the auto-body shop, where the warning label clearly warns against this. Also, gas cylinders used for torches and welding were not properly secured. This fact, coupled with the fact that the areas have no fire sprinkler system and that the fire extinguishers have not been properly inspected, creates an extreme fire hazard. Furthermore, the exhaust system in the painting booth was inoperable. The gymnasium at Oakley is supposed to be used for recreation. Unfortunately, during our visit much of it was unuseable because of water leaks from the roof. The locker rooms, showers, and stage area were not operable because of disrepair and flooding. The boy’s restroom was dirty and the floor was in disrepair. The girl’s restroom was in poor repair and had no hot water.

(2) Housing Units
        The housing units at Oakley are divided into dormitories and cottages in Unit II and pods in Unit I, Ironwood, and the SIU. Two older cottages in Unit II, Cypress and White cottages, are in extremely poor physical condition. Cypress and White cottages suffer from age and deterioration and are not regularly

maintained. We observed the following problems in Cypress: paint peeling from ceiling and walls, three out of the four urinals were not operational, three of the eight showers were not operational, and showers were only operable through the control room. In other Unit II, SIU, and Ironwood housing, many bathrooms had not been maintained properly with walls and ceilings in poor repair and many washbasins, showers, and toilets not operable. Furthermore, SIU and Ironwood’s housing set-up does not allow youth access to toilets or washbasins without getting the attention of staff. Youth also share one bar of soap during showers.

        The housing units suffer from numerous other problems. Lighting in the living units varied greatly. There were numerous areas in which the lighting was so poor that it invited accidents and certainly eyestrain. Hot water temperatures varied substantially between the housing units. Temperatures varied between 81 and 135 degrees. Air temperature and humidity were generally in the acceptable range, but a few living units were extremely cold because of too much air conditioning. There were numerous examples of mis-stored chemicals and cleaning supplies, such as, a dirty mop head stored next to clean sheets and underwear. Many of the youth’s mattresses were worn far beyond their useful life. In this condition, they cannot be adequately cleaned or sanitized and are fire safety risks. Youth sleep on the floor in crowded housing units or if the youth is on suicide precautions.

(b) Pest Control
In addition to what has already been discussed above, pest control in the housing units at Oakley is woefully lacking. There were rat burrows behind Cypress cottage, mice and roaches in the Unit I medical clinic, and roach infestations in Elm cottage and the SIU.
(c) Fire Safety
In an April 2002 fire inspection report, a fire marshal determined that four of the living units and the Unit II school did not have an operable fire alarm system. The report also found that the staff lacked adequate training and understanding for emergency situations. At the time of our visit three months later, these issues still had not been addressed. Other fire safety concerns included: emergency generators that required

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