In the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi; Eastern Division; Civil Action No. 3:11-cv-118-HTW-LRA
The Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, located in Walnut Grove, Mississippi, may not be known to most lay persons, yet in recent years, it has become very well known in many legal circles, stretching from local law enforcement all the way to the United States Department of Justice. At the time of the incident which is the subject of this case, Walnut Grove was a private prison facility that housed inmates aged 13-22 years of age who had been convicted of felonies. The Mississippi Department of Corrections contracted with the GEO Group, Inc., a private for-profit prison management corporation, headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida to manage the daily operations of the facility. By and through that contractual agreement, GEO was responsible for every aspect of the management of the facility, including the hiring, training programs and supervision of its staff.
On February 27, 2010, three (3) youthful offenders, our clients in this case, were attacked during a riot at Walnut Grove. As a result of the attacks, these young men received life-threatening and permanent injury, all of which could have been prevented: one sustained permanent brain damage, another, a right orbital fracture and other facial fractures together with assorted bodily injury, and the third, a right tendon injury when his hand was stabbed, together with soft tissue swelling to the brain, amongst other more minor injuries.
It was determined through the course of our investigation that Walnut Grove had been deficient for years in hiring, training and supervising their guards. The facility has suffered from extreme overcrowding and understaffing. Numerous incidents of malfeasance have been uncovered, showing guards introducing contraband into the facility for inmates, as well as engaging in inappropriate relations with inmates, including sexual relations and gang-related activity. Reports indicated that within days of the riot in this case, prison officials had received information that gang members were preparing to riot, yet they did nothing to prevent it, despite this early warning. Internal reports obtained also indicated that one guard in particular had opened the cell doors in the unit wherein the riot took place, allowing the inmates to roam free and at will, before leaving the unit and failing to not only report it, but also to do anything whatsoever in an attempt to help any of the affected youths, such as our clients, who were in the process of being beaten and stabbed. Surveillance video attested to these facts, as well as countless other heinous ones that will not be repeated herein- needless to say, the evidence was damning, and with such clear liability the case eventually settled (amount undisclosed for privacy purposes).
As a result of this case, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU National Prison Project filed a class action lawsuit against Walnut Grove seeking injunctive relief on the basis of unconstitutional conditions of confinement that existed at the time. That lawsuit resulted in a consent decree requiring significant improvements in the conditions at Walnut Grove. Further the United States Department of Justice released a report after their own very lengthy investigation of the facility, wherein it concluded that the conditions of confinement there did not meet minimum constitutional requirements. Interestingly, this report noted how the staff at Walnut Grove was not only involved in gang activity with the inmates there, but the supervisors were aware of it. This was our first case against GEO Group, Inc.; it undoubtedly will not be our last, as we have since settled another case against them and have another currently in litigation. As stated in the other representative case referenced on our website, while many might believe that the concept of hiring outside corporations to manage the daily operations of the State’s prisons is a desirable and cost-efficient one, what most do not understand is the reality of the outcome- rampant failure to adhere to policy and procedure, creating unconstitutional conditions of confinement, fostering inhumane care and treatment inconsistent with ACA standards, all of which is done in the interest of cutting corners for “cost efficiency”- and resulting in numerous legal hurdles GEO has been forced to defend against, which have been filed in every state in which it operates across the country. It is important to note that the Mississippi Department of Corrections terminated its contract with GEO in April, 2012, for what we understand to be numerous prior and subsequent failures on their part to properly maintain its facilities and prevent similar acts from occurring, in a number of the facilities it was contracted to operate throughout the State of Mississippi. MDOC has since retained yet another private prison operator to take its place.