"Brutal physical assault" alleged at Harrison County youth jail

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Allegations of physical and mental abuse have surfaced at the Harrison County Juvenile Detention Center.

A lawsuit filed against the county on Monday contends that over the past two months, a 17 year old inmate "endured a brutal physical assault from adult staff member."

It also claims that after the attacks, the teen got locked up "in a filthy, vermin infested jail cell."  The suit goes on to say the unsanitary conditions inside the juvenile detention center have led to scabies and staph infections.

Monday afternoon, advocates for children who've been housed at the Harrison County youth jail held a news conference to complain about what they're calling a squalid, overcrowded facility.

"I don't think that any kid deserves to be treated this way," Devonsha Fairley said.

At a news conference outside the Biloxi NAACP office, she read a statement from her 17-year-old son.  He's still locked up at the Harrison County Juvenile Detention Center.  He's also the plaintiff in D.W. versus Harrison County -- a lawsuit filed on his behalf by the Mississippi Youth Justice Project.

The suit alleges what youth justice project members consider shocking and horrific abuse of children inside the youth jail.

Fairley was told by her son that "he had been choked.  He had been put the knee in his back.  He had been pressure pointed to the point where he couldn't breathe."

Standing next to Ms. Fairley were members of the Mississippi Youth Justice Project.  They've been asking questions about conditions inside the youth jail since the middle of last year.  Bear Atwood is with the Mississippi Youth Justice Project.

"If dogs were living like that, the humane society would be called," she said.  "We need to make sure that our young people are treated like people."

The Harrison County Juvenile Detention Center is on Delauney Street in downtown Biloxi.  It's a 48 bed facility that a company called Mississippi Security Police began running for the county in 2001.  According to the youth justice project, Harrison County's current contract with Mississippi Security Police pays the private firm $1.6 million.

That total makes Sheila Bedi a bit uneasy.

"Centers all over the country are run in a small, humane fashion for far less than $1.6 million a year.  And children don't get abused there," the youth justice project representative said.

A teen who goes by the name of Marlon was asked to read his statement at the news conference. Marlon says he was incarcerated at the youth jail in 2007 and 2008.  What he wouldn't say was why he was in custody.

His statement described a facility that he said seemed more like a dog pound than a holding cell for children.

"I feel like the conditions of the center is unbearable and unfit for children," he read.  "I've seen the guards slam kids, mace them and do things they wouldn't even do to their own dog, let alone a human."

The federal lawsuit claims those conditions violate the constitutional rights of D.W. and other children housed at the Biloxi detention center.

Harrison County is the only defendant in this case.  WLOX News contacted the supervisors' president, the board attorney, and the county administrator.  None of them received a copy of the lawsuit.  So nobody would comment on it.

Since Mississippi Security Police has the $1.6 million contract to run the facility, WLOX News contacted that company as well.  Its director referred us to attorney Tim Holleman who hadn't seen the suit until WLOX News e-mailed it to him.

"Holding news conferences before you serve other parties with a lawsuit is certainly suspicious," Holleman said.

Click here to read the lawsuit for yourself.

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