Mississippi Juvenile centers called 'worst' in U.S. -- Justice Dept. cites widespread abuse Mississippi Juvenile centers called 'worst' in U.S. -- Justice Dept. cites widespread abuse
By John Fuquay
The Clarion-Ledger, July 2, 2004

J.D. Schwalm/

Britannacia Hoover (center), 15, of Lexington joins dozens of other children at a gathering arranged by U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson on Thursday. The congressman called a congressional town hall meeting to discuss the ongoing troubles at the Mississippi state training schools.

A Department of Justice attorney from Washington said Thursday that Mississippi's two state-run juvenile correction centers dispensed the most atrocious abuse his agency has investigated in 20 years.

If the Department of Justice prevails in a pending lawsuit over the allegations at the Oakley and Columbia training schools, the state would be subject to strict corrective measures or risk being in contempt.

Brad Schlozman, deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice's civil rights division, made his remarks during a town hall meeting organized by U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. "We've been dealing with scores of institutions across the country although none, none, nearly as bad as the two facilities here in Mississippi," Schlozman said.

"This is clearly the worst two we have seen in probably 20 years in the Department of Justice, and that's saying something."

Thompson said he received complaints of abuse at the schools in 2001 and asked state officials to investigate. He said he felt like officials were unresponsive, so he turned to the Department of Justice, which investigated the schools in 2002 and released a report last year that contained shocking allegations of abuse.

"We looked into it and found some problems and wanted it to be handled administratively, but that did not get done," Thompson said.

"It took about two years, and when the investigation came out they found a whole lot more ... You don't help a child by stripping them naked and doing all kinds of barbaric things, hogtying and shackling."

J.D. Schwalm/The Clarion-Ledger

Hollia Thompson of Byram asks about educational opportunities for children with disabilities.

Thompson said he still is receiving complaints about conditions at the schools, such as the seven students treated last month for staph infections at Oakley.

Oakley Training School in Raymond and Columbia Training School in Columbia house about 550 youths combined. Most are boys aged 10 to 17, but Columbia also houses girls 10 to 18.

Operated through the state Department of Human Services, the schools are to provide education and rehabilitation through a military-style regimen.

Instead, the investigation alleges widespread physical punishment with little or no rehabilitative or educational value.

The Department of Justice report said the abuses were unlawful, unconstitutional and that medical treatment was inadequate, making conditions unsafe.

At the time, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and Attorney General Mike Moore said they were working to improve conditions at the schools.

However, they balked at entering a court agreement with the Department of Justice, saying the state would lose too much control. Musgrove lost his reelection bid last year, and Moore did not seek reelection.

Armeather Garner, whose 15-year-old son was released from Oakley on Wednesday, said he will suffer mental anguish from his stay for being truant from school.

"He told me, 'Mama, that place is a jungle.' He got no education. He wrote his name and got an A. That's no education," said Garner, one of about 80 people who attended the meeting.

"... It did not help him. It's going to make him mentally sick."

Source: http://www.clarionledger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20040702/NEWS01/407020383/1002

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