Harrison Co. supervisors hear concerns about youth jail

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Harrison County supervisors heard Monday about allegations of children being neglected and abused at the juvenile detention center.

The county already faces a federal lawsuit which claims young offenders are being mistreated at that facility.

Members of an advocacy group attended the Board of Supervisors meeting, sharing their concerns with county leaders.

More than a dozen citizens wearing special tee-shirts outlining their concerns attended the board meeting. Their main spokesperson was a woman who worked with young offenders inside the detention center five years ago.

"Can you imagine a child in shackles in Harrison County? It's the most uncivilized thing to look at ever," Elaine Stevens told supervisors.

Stevens once worked with children at the juvenile detention center in Biloxi. She told supervisors young offenders experienced abuse, neglect and inhumane treatment at the lock-up.

"I watched them being brought in shackled, with ball and chain, not unlike prisoners at Guantanamo. I have since referred to the detention center as Harrison County's Guantanamo. Because I believe that those children are being tormented there," she said.

Backed by more than a dozen citizens wearing protest T-shirts, Stevens urged county leaders to investigate conditions at the detention center.

"Someone needs to look at this in a very in depth way. And examine the needs of these children.  And if you do not believe what I say, please go there. Spend the night with them. Or better yet, let one of your kids or grand kids spend the night there. See what they're exposed to," she told the board.

Supervisor William Martin, an attorney who has represented youth offenders, noted that Stevens' observations were five years ago.

"I know there are some issues. But there are issues everywhere. And I believe the situation in Harrison County is not as bleak as some people make it out to be. That's just my true belief," said Supervisor Martin.

Citizens who attended the board meeting say problems at the detention center have not been adequately addressed.

Melody Harper's 15-year-old son is currently locked up.

"Kids having diseases and rashes all over them. Overcrowding. My son had two boys sleeping on the floor in his cell with one cover. It's embarrassing," said Harper, outside the board room.

"The majority of these youth are redeemable. They're human beings. They're our children. They're our future," Stevens told supervisors.

The advocacy group claiming abuse and neglect at the juvenile detention center filed a federal lawsuit against Harrison County on April 24th. The detention center is run by a private company called Mississippi Security Police.

The director of the lock-up gave the media a tour of the facility in late April and strongly denied those allegations of abuse.

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