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

Pages 37-48 (end)         Return to Pages 25-36


hand cranking; Pine cottage’s only fire extinguisher was partially discharged; Cypress cottage’s only fire extinguisher was behind a locked door and the fire exit was locked and barred; and generally staff had a difficult time finding the right keys for fire extinguishers and fire exits.

2. Columbia
        In general, we found the Columbia facility in better condition than the Oakley campus,18 but found the following problems: (1) potentially dangerous areas in the housing units for youth with suicidal ideation;19 and (2) sweltering temperatures in the girl’s SIU with girls having no access to water.
H. Other Juvenile Justice Issues
1. Lack of Due Process
        Youth routinely are locked in isolation in the SIUs at Oakley and Columbia, and in Ironwood at Oakley, without adequate due process. As a general rule, juveniles may be isolated and locked briefly in their rooms as an immediate response to out-of-control behavior that may endanger the youth, other children, or staff. However, extended isolation for punitive purposes may only be imposed if the youth is afforded notice of the charges and after an informal hearing before a staff member not involved in the incident. Moreover, the youth should be able to appeal adverse results of the due process hearing. Cf. H.C. v. Jarrard, 786 F.2d 1080, 1082 (11th Cir. 1986); Gary H. v. Hegstrom, 831 F.2d 1430, 1443 (9th Cir. 1987); Patterson v. Hopkins, 481 F.2d 640, 641 (5th Cir. 1973). Both Oakley and Columbia have policies detailing adequate due process procedures to which youth are entitled before being placed in disciplinary isolation. However, actual practices at both facilities deviate substantially from written policy. For example, a disciplinary committee at


18 At Columbia, there were some general maintenance issues for some of the older housing units.

19 For example, we observed metal hooks for hanging uniforms in the hallways of most of the basic and advanced housing areas. Metal grating with openings large enough to tie off a hanging device was found in several cells in the girls’ SIU.


If a youth appears before the Committee and testifies to something other than what the staff attests to, the youth is typically given added time or punishment.
Columbia hears complaints against youth. However, if a youth appears before the Committee and testifies to something other than what the staff attests to, the youth is typically given added time or punishment. Youth sent to the SIUs do not receive the benefit of the committee hearing prior to removal from the cottages and in fact may be confined in isolation for several days before they receive word regarding their punishment or release back to the cottages. Hearings are not provided to students at Oakley when they are removed from the open cottages and sent to Unit One, the SIU, or Ironwood. Youth reported, and the documentation we reviewed showed, that youth are routinely removed to the secure, locked units based on recommendations from the psychologist, the facility administrator, or the director of the Division of Youth Services, without the opportunity for a hearing.

2. Grievance Process
        Columbia and Oakley youth have no ability to access a grievance system designed to address their complaints regarding their treatment at the facilities. Generally accepted professional standards mandate that youth should have readily available access to a grievance process. Where courts have considered this, they have uniformly found that detained youth have a constitutional right to file grievances with facility administrators regarding their treatment. Bradley v. Hall, 64 F.3d 1276, 1279 (9th Cir. 1995); D.B. v. Tewksbury, 545 F. Supp. 896, 905 (D.Or. 1982); Morales v. Turman, 364 F. Supp. 166, 175 (E.D. Tex. 1973). An objective grievance system should be well known to youth at Oakley and Columbia and be easily accessible. Grievances also provide an important quality-control mechanism by which Oakley and Columbia administrators can monitor whether facility staff are adhering to policies and procedures.
3. Staff Training
        Many of the deficiencies we identified at each facility can be directly attributed to lack of training. Staff at both facilities lacked adequate training in behavioral management techniques, assessment of suicidal youth, crisis management, psychiatric medications, therapeutic techniques, verbal communication and de-escalation, and working with violent juveniles. Staff also need to be trained in properly documenting serious incidents, use of physical and chemical restraints, and visual checks of youth locked in cells. Nurses at Oakley and


Columbia are not provided training to improve their skills and clinical competency and are not regularly trained and certified in CPR. Staff at Oakley had not received any training in CPR, first aid, or other medical issues in recent years. Staff at both facilities are ill-equipped to handle emergencies.

4. Mail, Telephone, and Visitation
Youth at Columbia reported that their mail was censored. Reportedly, correspondence to family or to youth court judges which mentioned anything negative about Columbia or the Columbia staff was not mailed.
        Youth have the right to send and receive written communications through the postal service. See Milonas v. Williams, 691 F.2d 931, 939 (10th Cir. 1982). Both Oakley and Columbia’s policies state that incoming and outgoing mail will not be read by staff unless there is reasonable cause to believe the mail is a threat to the security of the institution or another individual, or contains sexually explicit or obscene matter. Youth at Columbia reported that their mail was censored. Reportedly, correspondence to family or to youth court judges which mentioned anything negative about Columbia or the Columbia staff was not mailed. At both facilities, many youth indicated that they were not given regular opportunities to write their families. Overly-restrictive practices with respect to mail, telephone, and visitation work together to deny youth in both facilities the ability to communicate with their families, communities, and attorneys.         Additionally, youth cannot make or receive telephone calls at Oakley and Columbia. Families are permitted visits for only two hours on Sunday. Many youth reported that families could not visit because of the youth’s placement in a facility far from home combined with such limited visitation opportunities. This forced estrangement from their families negatively impacts youths’ abilities to achieve success at the facilities.
5. Lack of Opportunities for Exercise at Ironwood
        Ironwood staff do not allow youth to go outside for exercise in the recreation yard attached to the building. During our first tour, more than half of the youth had been in Ironwood longer than 90 days. One youth had been confined in Ironwood for nearly two years and reported that he had never been allowed


outside even though there is a secure court in the back of the facility. This is unhealthy and inhumane, and unlawful.20


        In order to rectify the identified deficiencies and protect the constitutional and statutory rights of the youth confined at Oakley and Columbia, the facilities should implement, at a minimum, the following measures: A. Protection from Harm

  1. Ensure that any imposition of discipline is appropriate and justified by a legitimate, appropriate penological interest. Ensure that abusive institutional practices such as hogtying, pole shackling, “sitting in a chair,” “guard duty,” making youth run with tires around their bodies, use of the “dark room” in the girls’ SIU at Columbia, and requiring youth to strip naked before being placed in isolation, are ceased immediately.

  2. Ensure that juveniles are adequately protected from staff abuse. Employ sufficient trained and independent investigators to ensure that all incidents of violence, use of force, or serious injury are adequately investigated and that appropriate personnel actions are taken in response to substantiated findings. Ensure that OC spray is used only where there is an imminent risk of serious bodily harm and no other less intrusive restraint is available. Ensure that all uses of OC spray or mechanical or chemical restraints are well-documented and reviewed in a timely manner by senior administrators.

  3. Develop and implement adequate quality assurance mechanisms and review to ensure the efficacy of corrective measures.
B. Mental Health Care


20 Youth in confinement “must receive at least an hour’s physical exercise out of the [unit] or in the gym . . . .” Morgan v. Sproat, 432 F. Supp. 1130, 1140 (S.D. Miss. 1977). Youth “should have at least one to two hours of recreation each weekday and two to four hours on weekends, when they are not in school.” Id. at 1154.


  1. Provide adequate mental health and rehabilitative treatment.

  2. Ensure that there are an adequate number of counselors and psychologists and an adequate amount of contracted psychiatric hours to provide adequate mental health and rehabilitative treatment services to all youth who require such services.

  3. Ensure that all youth with mental health needs have current comprehensive individual treatment plans, and that the youth, and facility counselors, are involved in their development.

  4. Develop and implement policies and procedures that comply with generally accepted professional standards for the management of suicidal youth.

  5. Ensure that restraints and isolation other than disciplinary isolation are used only when a youth presents a clear and present danger to him/herself or others. Provide adequate positive behavior management programs.

  6. Cease placement of youth in isolation cells for prolonged periods. Ensure that youth placed in isolation cells receive adequate exercise and recreation outdoors.

  7. Cease placement of mentally ill youth in programs and units where they cannot receive adequate mental health care or where they face a likelihood of punishment or other harm in response to their mental illness. Cease placement of youth with suicidal ideation at Ironwood or in the SIUs at Oakley and Columbia.

  8. Provide appropriate rehabilitative activities during nonschool hours and days.

  9. Cease placement of youths into paramilitary programs when, by reason of mental or physical disability or maturity level, the youth cannot reasonably be expected to obtain any significant benefit or the placement will likely result in physical or psychological harm to the youths.

C. Medical Care


  1. Staff all medical units with sufficient medical staff to screen and evaluate incoming youth, and provide adequate treatment and monitoring of youth with medical needs.

  2. Ensure that nurses provide medical care within the scope of their training and licensure.

  3. Train staff to conduct medical and mental health assessments properly and to look for signs of mental and physical illness in the youth interviewed.

  4. Revise and implement procedures to ensure that youth reporting or exhibiting possible signs of significant medical or mental health problems during the initial assessment are seen promptly by a doctor or psychiatrist, where appropriate, and receive follow-up care.

  5. Develop and implement procedures for validating and continuing, if appropriate, current prescriptions for medications of incoming youth within the prescriptions’ clinically indicated time period.

  6. Ensure that the medical clinics at each facility are equipped with adequate equipment to provide essential emergency services. Ensure that medical equipment that could be used as weapons is not accessible to youth.

  7. Provide for an appropriately confidential environment in which to conduct medical and mental health assessments. Ensure that youth have adequate opportunities to contact and discuss health concerns with health care staff in a setting that affords privacy.

  8. Develop and implement policies, procedures, and practices to ensure that youth receive care from the appropriate level and specialty of practitioner in a timely manner.

  9. Ensure that all youth receive a full dental examination at the time of the initial health assessment, and provide adequate treatment and monitoring of youth with dental needs.

  10. Cease the use of the dental clinic at Oakley until such time as the risks of infection from the contaminated instruments,


    and equipment, and dirt, pests, and other vermin are removed.

D. Education

  1. Ensure that all students receive appropriate education instruction within a few school days of their arrival at the facility.21

  2. Ensure that all students receive 330 minutes of classroom time per day and that all students receive the benefit of class instruction in math, English, social studies, and science.

  3. Provide adequate qualified substitute teachers.

  4. Provide youth in disciplinary confinement with the full range of educational services.

  5. Provide all youth reasonable access to reading and writing materials in their cells.

  6. Provide adequate screening of youth for special education needs. Obtain prior education records from school systems in a timely fashion. Provide special education services to all youth identified by the screening process.

  7. Implement procedures to identify all youth with mental retardation or mental illness and ensure that they are transitioned out of Oakley and Columbia as quickly as possible. Implement procedures to prevent the placement of youth with mental illness or mental retardation at the facilities.


    21 One way Oakley and Columbia could provide this remedy is to set up a special “intake” education class. This classroom could focus on basic education skills such as literacy, current events, and math skills. The curriculum would be applicable to children with a broad range of education backgrounds. It would also provide the facility with an opportunity to evaluate the children’s education abilities before all relevant education records had been obtained. After an appropriate period of time in this intake classroom, children could be integrated into the general school population.


  8. Ensure parent or guardian involvement in evaluations, eligibility determinations, placement and provision of special education services.

  9. Ensure that all eligible youth have current, valid IEPs. Create a system of routinely developing, implementing, monitoring and reviewing youth’s IEPs.

  10. Provide juveniles with adequate related services at Oakley and Columbia and ensure that special education students have access to transition services specified in the IDEA, such as the vocational training program at Oakley.

Religious Freedom

  1. Revise the policies regarding the exercise of religion to clarify the proper role that religious activities can play at the facilities. The policies shall provide that youth be allowed to engage in voluntary religious activities unless the facilities can show that curtailing such activities would be the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling governmental interest. At the same time, the policies must not coerce youth to engage in specific religious activities. Provide adequate training to all staff on the policies and protocols described above. Monitor facility programs and the decorations on the units to ensure that the policies described above are being followed.

F. Environmental Health

  1. Correct deficiencies in maintenance and sanitation at Oakley. Appoint a facility safety officer to ensure accountability in the areas of safety and sanitation.

  2. Repair all safety hazards in administrative buildings and housing units at Oakley. Remedy all suicide hazards in areas where youth with suicidal ideations may be potentially housed.

  3. . Ensure that Oakley provides proper water temperatures in the kitchen and housing areas.

  4. Obtain Material Safety Data Sheets for all applicable chemicals used in the facilities.


  5. Develop written policies and procedures specifically addressing the handling, storage and use of flammable, caustic and toxic chemicals in compliance with applicable state and federal regulations.

  6. Correct structural problems in Oakley’s gymnasium.

  7. Repair and replace all malfunctioning toilets, lavatories and showers at Oakley.

  8. . Ensure that adequate sleeping accommodations are provided such that no youth is required to sleep on the floor at Oakley.

  9. Implement proper sanitation and maintenance control of cockroaches, spiders and mice throughout Oakley, including housing and medical areas.

  10. Ensure that bi-annual fire safety inspections are conducted at Oakley by state and local fire officials.

  11. Address all issues identified by the Fire Marshal at Oakley immediately.

  12. Ensure that Oakley staff are adequately trained quarterly in fire and emergency procedures.

  13. Ensure adequate ventilation throughout the boys’ and girls’ SIUs at Columbia so that youth receive an adequate supply of fresh air and reasonable levels of heating and cooling. Maintenance staff should review and assess compliance with this requirement at appropriate intervals.
G. Other Juvenile Justice Issues
  1. Ensure that youth are afforded a due process hearing before imposing confinement for disciplinary purposes in the SIUs at both facilities, Unit One at Oakley, and Ironwood.

  2. Develop and implement an adequate grievance system at Oakley and Columbia.

  3. Employ sufficient trained staff to ensure safety and to satisfy the individual treatment, training and


    rehabilitative needs of juveniles confined in these facilities.

  4. Train existing staff so that they perform their positions adequately and ensure that all staff demonstrate an understanding of and/or demonstrate the application of applicable skills. For all staff working with juveniles, the areas of training and demonstrated competence should include: passive restraint; stages of adolescent development; communication skills; therapeutic intervention skills; basic rights of residents and staff; report writing; basic medical terminology; recognizing and responding to seizure disorders; common side effects of prescription and non-prescription medication; universal precautions to prevent infection of TB or HIV/AIDS; confidentiality of medical information; the provision of health education for residents; basic information concerning learning disabilities; certification in first aid and CPR; and adaptive activities for physically and developmentally challenged juveniles.

  5. Provide juveniles with adequate access to mail, telephones, and visitation.

  6. Ensure youth confined to Ironwood are permitted access to adequate outdoor exercise.

* * * * *

        During the exit interview at our on-site tours, we provided State officials with preliminary observations made by our expert consultants. State officials and facility staff reacted positively and constructively to the observations and recommendations for improvements. The collaborative approach the parties have taken thus far has been productive. We hope to be able to continue working with the State in an amicable and cooperative fashion to resolve deficiencies previously noted. In addition, due to the State’s cooperation in this matter, and State officials’ expressed desire to improve conditions in these facilities, we will send, under separate cover, reports from our experts which provide their more detailed findings and recommendations to address the inadequacies they found in the operation of the facilities. Although the expert consultants’ evaluations and work do not necessarily reflect the official


conclusions of the Department of Justice, their observations, analysis, and recommendations provide further elaboration of the issues discussed in this letter and offer practical assistance in addressing them.

       In the unexpected event that the parties are unable to reach a resolution regarding the concerns outlined above, the Attorney General may initiate a lawsuit pursuant to CRIPA, to correct deficiencies or to otherwise protect the rights of Oakley and Columbia residents, 49 days after the receipt of this letter.
Now read The Last Resort, By Decca Aitkenhead, (The Observer, June 29, 2003) for a troubling close-up look at Tranquility Bay, a private off-shore "treatment center" for "troubled" youth.
See 42 U.S.C. § 1997b (a)(1). We have every confidence, however, that this matter will be resolved cooperatively. Accordingly, Civil Rights Division attorneys will soon contact State officials to discuss in more detail the State’s implementation of these remedial measures.


Ralph F. Boyd, Jr.
Assistant Attorney General

cc: The Honorable Mike Moore
Attorney General
State of Mississippi

Thelma Brittain
Interim Executive Director
Mississippi Department of Human Services

Willie Blackmon, Director
Division of Youth Services
Mississippi Department of Human Services

Dr. Nanolla Yasdani
Executive Director
Oakley Training School

Mr. Michael Morris
Executive Director
Columbia Training School

The Honorable Dunn O. Lampton
United States Attorney for the
Southern District of Mississippi

The Honorable Roderick R. Paige
United States Department of Education

Mr. Robert H. Pasternack
Assistant Secretary
Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
United States Department of Education

Ms. Stephanie S. Lee
Office of Special Education Programs
United States Department of Education

See: Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, Adopted on 12 August 1949 by the Diplomatic Conference for the Establishment of International Conventions for the Protection of Victims of War, held in Geneva from 21 April to 12 August, 1949, entry into force 21 October 1950

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