Case: DOJ Investigation of Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility

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Case Summary

On October 25, 2010, the Special Litigation Section of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights Division announced that it was commencing an investigation into the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility (“Walnut Grove”) in Mississippi (“the State”). Walnut Grove was a 1,500 bed prison that housed children and men aged 13 to 22 in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC). According to the DOJ report, the population of Walnut Grove more than tripled between 2001 and…

On October 25, 2010, the Special Litigation Section of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights Division announced that it was commencing an investigation into the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility (“Walnut Grove”) in Mississippi (“the State”). Walnut Grove was a 1,500 bed prison that housed children and men aged 13 to 22 in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC). According to the DOJ report, the population of Walnut Grove more than tripled between 2001 and 2010. Approximately 79% of the youth were Black, 20% white and 1% classified as “Other.”

The State contracted Cornell Companies to run Walnut Grove as a facility for juvenile offenders from 2003 to 2010; in 2010, the GEO Group acquired Cornell Companies. The GEO Group, Inc. is a publicly traded company that invests in private prisons and mental health facilities in North America, Australia, South Africa and the United Kingdom. In 2010, the GEO Group reportedly operated more than forty facilities in the United States. 

Following significant publicity surrounding the DOJ investigation, the State conducted an internal review of the facility. The State’s parallel investigation was conducted in cooperation with the DOJ. The State released a report consistent with the findings of the DOJ investigation in 2011. Between January and October 2010, during the course of the State’s investigation, 11 officers found to have engaged in inappropriate relationships with youth were terminated.

On March 20, 2012, the DOJ formally informed the governor of Mississippi of the findings of the investigation and publicly released the report. In the course of the investigation, the DOJ interviewed administrators, staff, and 300-400 youth. The DOJ found an unconstitutional pattern or practice of deliberate indifference to the health and well-being of the youth at Walnut Grove on the part of both the staff at the facility and the state. The six main findings of the report were as follows:

  1. Deliberate indifference to staff sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior with youth, and that the misconduct was among the worst the DOJ had seen in the country. In addition, contrary to their legal duties, staff frequently failed to report allegations of staff sexual abuse to supervisors.
  2. A pattern or practice of using excessive force against youth, including pepper spray, and a failure to adequately report and investigate uses of force
  3. Deliberate indifference to the gang affiliations of correctional staff.
  4. Deliberate indifference to the risk of harm posed to youth by fellow youth, and evidence of failure to take reasonable steps to protect youth from sexual and physical assault.
  5. Deliberate indifference to the risk of suicide and mental health needs of the youth at the facility, rooted in a lack of sufficient mental health professionals appropriately trained to help suicidal youth.
  6. Deliberate indifference to the medical needs of youth at the facility.  

In the report, the DOJ concluded that it wanted to work cooperatively with the State to address the numerous deficiencies and implement remedial measures. 

On November 16, 2010, plaintiffs represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU Prison Project filed a federal class-action suit against GEO and MDOC (see: DePriest ex rel. C.B. v. Walnut Grove Correctional Authority). The contents of the claim mirrored the pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct found by the DOJ. Following extensive testimony, the case was settled and a federal court monitor was appointed on March 26, 2012, six days after the DOJ’s report was released. Conditions of the settlement included: transferring youthful offenders to locations that conformed to juvenile standards; establishing a state-run youthful offender unit at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility; and ending all contracts with GEO Group. As a result of the investigation and settlement, the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility ceased housing youth offenders and became the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility (WGCF). 

On April 20, 2012, Mississippi announced that it would end its contracts with the GEO Group. The state signed a new contract with another private prison company, the Management & Training Corporation.  In 2014, the FBI commenced a five-year investigation into Walnut Grove and other MDOC private prisons titled Operation Mississippi Hustle. The WGCF closed in 2016 but has since reopened. 

Summary Authors

Hannah Juge (11/12/2021)

Related Cases

DePriest ex rel. C.B. v. Walnut Grove Correctional Authority, Southern District of Mississippi (2010)

People


Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Perez, Thomas E. (District of Columbia)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Perez, Thomas E. (District of Columbia)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Findings Letter (2012)

March 20, 2012

March 20, 2012

Findings Letter/Report

Resources

Docket

Last updated May 11, 2022, 8 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Mississippi

Case Type(s):

Juvenile Institution

Prison Conditions

Key Dates

Closing Date: 2018

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

The investigation was run by the Special Litigation section of the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. The Special Litigation section works to protect civil rights in several areas, including the rights of people in jails, prisons, juvenile detention facilities, and health care facilities for people with disabilities.

Plaintiff Type(s):

U.S. Dept of Justice plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

ACLU National Prison Project

U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: Yes

Class Action Outcome: Granted

Defendants

Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility (Leake), Private Entity/Person

Case Details

Causes of Action:

Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997 et seq.

Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act, 34 U.S.C. § 12601 (previously 42 U.S.C. § 14141)

Special Case Type(s):

Out-of-court

Availably Documents:

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Source of Relief:

Settlement

Form of Settlement:

Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree

Order Duration: 2012 - 2017

Issues

General:

Assault/abuse by staff

Conditions of confinement

Juveniles

Sanitation / living conditions

Sex w/ staff; sexual harassment by staff

Suicide prevention

Totality of conditions

Type of Facility:

Non-government for-profit