"Vermin infested" youth jail actually found to be very clean

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A grand jury report says Harrison County's youth detention center appears "clean and organized."  That finding is quite a bit different than claims by a watchdog group just a few months ago that the youth jail was a filthy, vermin infested facility.

Back in April, the Mississippi Youth Justice Project held a news conference, accusing staff members at the Harrison County Youth Detention Center of physical and mental abuse.  Bear Atwood spoke that day on behalf of the Youth Justice Project.

"You know if dogs were living like that, the humane society would be called.  And we do, we need to make sure that our young people are treated like people," she said.

Atwood admitted she based her comments on allegations made by teens who were once housed in the detention center.  At the time of the news conference, Mississippi Youth Justice Project members had never entered the facility.

When a grand jury toured the facility on May 14th, it found that the staff was "very attentive and professional to the needs of the children.  We were pleased with the educational program.  The facility was small but appeared to be very clean and well organized."

The grand jury made to two recommendations to improve the youth jail.  Expand the facility in the immediate future, and provide a shade area for the teens when they go into the courtyard to relax.  That courtyard is where teens often walk around, or play basketball.

The entire finding of the grand jury was written in a one paragraph summary titled Harrison County Juvenile Detention Center.

The youth jail is run by Mississippi Security Police.  It gave the media a tour of the complex on April 24th.  That was right after a lawsuit against the management team, and the county was filed.  It also let Mississippi Youth Justice Project members inside, so they could see the facility for themselves.

Since then, out of court settlements were reached in both lawsuits.

The attorney for Mississippi Security Police is Tim Holleman.  He said that after the lawsuit was filed, it became obvious to the protesters that things weren't as bad as they originally inferred.  However, Holleman also admitted the watchdog group made some suggestions to improve jail conditions that have been implemented.

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