America’s 10 Worst Prisons: Walnut Grove

This is from the series in MotherJones Magazine

“A picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world.”

—By James Ridgeway and Jean Casella
May. 13, 2013

Serving time in prison is not supposed to be pleasant. Nor, however, is it supposed to include being raped by fellow prisoners or staff, beaten by guards for the slightest provocation, driven mad by long-term solitary confinement, or killed off by medical neglect. These are the fates of thousands of prisoners every year—men, women, and children housed in lockups that give Gitmo and Abu Ghraib a run for their money.

While there’s plenty of blame to go around, and while not all of the facilities described in this series have all of the problems we explore, some stand out as particularly bad actors. We’ve compiled this subjective list of America’s 10 worst lockups (plus a handful of dishonorable mentions) based on three years of research, correspondence with prisoners, and interviews with criminal-justice reform advocates concerning the penal facilities with the grimmest claims to infamy.

We will roll out the final contenders this week, complete with photos and video. Number 9 is a corporate-run facility where children allegedly have been subjected to a heartrending pattern of brutal beatings, rapes, and isolation.

Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility (Leake County, Mississippi)

Number of prisoners: Capacity 1,450 (actual population in flux)

Who’s in charge: (current) Lawrence Mack, warden; (former) George Zoley, CEO, the GEO Group; Christopher B. Epps, commissioner, Mississippi Department of Corrections

The basics: Efforts are underway to clean up and clear out Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, which one federal judge called “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts” visited upon children as young as 13. For years, the kids at Walnut Grove were subjected to a gauntlet of physical and sexual assaults, and psychological abuse including long-term solitary confinement. All of this took place under the management of private prison conglomerate the GEO Group.

The backlash: Evidence gathered for a report by the Justice Department and a lawsuit by the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center “paints a picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world,” Federal District Judge Carleton Reeves wrote in a 2012 court order. The court found that conditions at Walnut Grove violated the Constitution, not to mention state and federal civil and criminal laws. Guards regularly had sex with their young charges and the facility’s pattern of “brutal” rapes among prisoners was the worst of “any facility anywhere in the nation” (court’s emphasis). Guards also were deemed excessively violent—beating, kicking, and punching “handcuffed and defenseless” youths and frequently subjecting them to chemical restraints such as pepper spray, even for insignificant infractions.

The guards also sold drugs on site and staged “gladiator-style” fights. “It’d be like setting up a fight deal like you would with two dogs,” one former resident told NPR. “They actually bet on it. It was payday for the guards.” Said another: “A lot of times, the guards are in the same gang. If the inmates wanted something done, they got it. If they wanted a cell popped open to handle some business about fighting or something like that, it just pretty much happened.” Kids who complained or tried to report these incidents faced harsh retribution, including long stints in solitary.

Judge Reeves wrote that the state had turned a blind eye to the prison company’s abuses: Walnut Grove’s charges, “some of whom are mere children, are at risk every minute, every hour, every day.” In accord with a court decree, the facility’s youngest residents have been moved to a state-run juvenile facility, and Mississippi canceled its contract with GEO—which still runs some 65 prisons nationwide. The contract was handed over to another private prison company, Management and Training Corporation, which also has been a target of criticism for advocates of criminal justice reform.

Also read:The Lost Boys,” about what happens when you put kids in an adult isolation facility.

Watch: Local news report on a protest by Walnut Grove parents.

Pepper spray in Ohio juvenile lockups unwarranted

From: NECN.com
Nov 30, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The pepper spraying of juvenile inmates in September broke numerous state rules and was without exception unwarranted, a court-appointed monitor concluded in a report. The state has argued a violent gang outbreak justified the spraying.

The analysis of several incidents in which gang members were pepper sprayed as they were transferred between units sheds more light on Ohio’s evolving youth prison system, which is both shrinking but also growing more violent as only serious offenders remain in state custody.

A member of a court-appointed monitoring team who reviewed 11 pepper spray cases found “not a single incident” where the use was justified, according to the 16-page report filed Monday in federal court in Columbus.

“None of the youth were armed; none were barricaded; none were physically violent; none were engaged in targeted aggressive movement toward staff; and none were engaged in striking, grabbing, pushing or punching of staff,” according to the report by team member Steve Martin.

Martin cited three cases where guards sprayed pepper spray into their hands, then swiped it on the faces of juveniles already being held down.

Applying pepper spray “in this fashion is extraordinarily dangerous and greatly increases the risk of asphyxia during a prone restraint,” the report said. Martin noted that “the ‘facial swipe’ tactic is unprecedented in my many years of experience reviewing and investigating hundreds of use of force incidents” involving pepper spray.

The monitoring team reviewed incidents in September in which the Department of Youth Services asked adult prison guards to help move youth identified as gang leaders. Seven youths from Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility in Delaware and 12 from Circleville Correctional Facility were moved to a separate unit at the Scioto facility.

A Youth Services spokeswoman declined comment because the incident involves an ongoing lawsuit. But the state painted a dire picture in a Nov. 18 court filing justifying its use of the pepper spray.

In August and September, gang-related violence had exploded, with 11 large-scale incidents involving multiple youths. Teens were breaking out of their cells for fights, and numerous guards and juvenile inmates suffered injuries. By the end of September, 20 staff members were on leave due to injuries from assaults, the filing said.

Teens not involved in the violence were refusing to go to school or therapy sessions out of fear for their safety, according to the filing.

“The outright ban of pepper spray could make it impossible for DYS to restore order during extraordinary circumstances without resorting to more risky physical intervention techniques, making injury to youths and staff much more likely,” the state said, noting that no youth who was sprayed needed anything more than basic first aid afterward.

A court-ordered monitor continues to oversee Ohio’s attempts to make youth prisons safer following a 2004 lawsuit that alleged a culture of violence.

Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Algenon Marbley ordered the state to ensure pepper spray is not used to quell disturbances in state youth detention facilities. He plans a hearing next month.

Marbley’s order also required the state to film forceful restraints of juveniles and to provide immediate explanations when outside guards are called in.

The monitoring team’s report said Youth Services failed several times to videotape pepper sprayings.

“Although ten of the eleven applications of … spray were planned uses of force, DYS personnel failed to properly record all but two of those incidents with handheld cameras,” the report said.

Read the rest here.

Former judge gets 28 years for scheme to unjustly jail youth

From: CNN

By the CNN Wire Staff
August 12, 2011
(CNN) — A former Pennsylvania juvenile judge was sentenced to 28 years in prison Thursday after being convicted for a scheme to make millions off unjustly incarcerating young people, court officials said.

Former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella was also ordered by a federal judge in Pennsylvania to pay about $1 million in restitution.

The sentence was four times the 87 months sentence that Ciavarella and federal prosecutors had agreed to when he pleaded guilty to charges in 2009.

But that plea deal was thrown out by a federal judge and the case went to trial.

Read the rest here.