BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Mississippi Security Police invited the media to tour the Harrison County Juvenile Detention Center. The invitation comes just three days after the facility became embroiled in a lawsuit alleging inmate abuse.
An advocacy group filed that lawsuit on behalf of a 17-year-old who claimed he was physically and mentally assaulted while in the downtown Biloxi jail. The suit also alleged the facility was overcrowded and vermin infested.
Butch Cummings is the director of the Harrison County Juvenile Detention Center. When he was asked whether there was abuse inside the facility, he defiantly said, "Absolutely not."
Cummings led the media on a tour through the recently maligned youth jail. As it started, he walked down a hall and said, "The only filth and vermin you're going to find in the building is in my office."
Cummings made the vermin reference because a vermin infested juvenile jail cell was one of the allegations in a lawsuit filed by the Mississippi Youth Justice Project against Harrison County.
That charge infuriated assistant director Becki Borries. "I was hurt," she said.
Harrison County was also accused of abuse and inadequate mental health care. Directors disputed that by pointing out the county had a Health Assurance representative at the youth jail three days a week, specifically to treat physical and mental health concerns.
"We run a humane, and professional organization here. And we don't abuse kids either physically or verbally," Cummings said.
On Monday, the juvenile detention center was called unbearable and unfit for children. However, directors cited the grade "A" health department inspection inside the kitchen, and the classroom run by a Biloxi teacher as examples of just how serious Mississippi Security Police is about providing wayward children a healthy place to pay their penance.
"I think we do a good job with the kids," said Borries. "I talk with them every day. I have hearings with them. And I don't think we mistreat them."
As for the overcrowding allegation, Mississippi Security Police's director passed out a report refuting that charge. It said that in the last two years, the 48 bed facility has averaged fewer than 40 teenage inmates a day.
The attorney for Mississippi Security Police is Tim Holleman. He noted that in the case cited in the suit, jailers followed their use of force policy. They "restrained" the child, he said, they didn't abuse him. In the eight years Mississippi Security Police has run the youth jail, Holleman said one officer had been fired for abusing a child. And that was before Katrina.