- Associated Press - Saturday, August 16, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Federal officials say they’re ready to end oversight of a Mississippi juvenile training school.

The U.S Justice Department and the state jointly filed a motion Friday in federal court in Jackson to dismiss the 2003 case, under which federal authorities sued to force better conditions at Columbia Training School in Columbia and Oakley Training School in Raymond.

“These improvements will help to ensure that safety, security and required services are provided to Oakley youth in a sustainable manner,” Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Molly Moran said in a statement.

In the original suit, federal officials cited gruesome conditions, including youth tied to poles and forced to eat their own vomit and suicidal girls stripped naked and placed in solitary confinement.

The state signed a consent decree in the case in 2005, agreeing to make improvements in mental health, education and rehabilitation. The Department of Human Services closed Columbia Training School in 2008, partially for budget reasons, leaving Oakley as the only facility covered by the lawsuit. Oakley itself was downsized through layoffs in 2010, and now about 60 boys and girls are held there on a daily basis.

Mississippi expanded its Adolescent Offender Programs to each of its 82 counties, focusing on education with certified teachers and treatment of substance abuse and behavioral problems. They’re also better at classifying offenders, so that only the worst cases go to state facilities.

The state renegotiated terms of its consent decree in May 2010, leaving 23 provisions for the state to satisfy related to mental health, suicide prevention and everyday treatment and housing issues.

In 2013, the monitor found that the state had maintained all but two of the goals laid out in the settlement for six months. Under the settlement, state and federal officials agreed monitoring of provisions would end when the state achieved compliance for six months, and U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate curtailed the monitoring to only examine steps to assure quality care. Monitor Kelly Dedel wrote in May that the state has complied with those requirements as well.

“The state now has a robust quality assurance process that includes procedures for corrective action planning,” Dedel wrote.

Some local juvenile centers, including Hinds County’s Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center, continue to face scrutiny. The Southern Poverty Law Center sued over conditions at the Jackson center and is still seeking changes.

Mississippi also came under scrutiny for youth offenders convicted as adults who were housed at the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility in Leake County. After lawsuits over physical and sexual abuse there, the state moved those inmates to a dedicated facility at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin County. Court monitors have said conditions at the new facility are improved.

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