by Ward Schaefer
Mississippi should cancel its contract with private prison company GEO Group, juvenile justice advocates said today. GEO Group, which operates the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, is the subject of a lawsuit alleging widespread abuse and mistreatment of juvenile inmates. Friends and Family Members of Youth Incarcerated at Walnut Grove, a group dedicated to exposing conditions at the prison, delivered a petition with more than 1,600 signatures from Mississippians to state Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps today.
"Our members understand that the for-profit incentive of the prison has allowed the abuse to largely go unchecked and believe that the problems at the Walnut Grove Youth Facility can be addressed if the state of Mississippi cancels the contract with the GEO Group," said Michael McIntosh, one of the group's founders,.
The petition drew more than 1,600 signatures from Mississippi members on ColorofChange.org, a group that works to make government more responsive to the concerns of Black Americans.
A coalition including the Mississippi Youth Justice Project, the ACLU's National Prison Project and Jackson civil-rights lawyer Rob McDuff filed a suit on behalf of inmates against the state and GEO Group in November 2010. The suit alleges that guards allowed and even encouraged inmates to attack one another. Guards have also carried on sexual relationships with inmates and sold drugs to them, the lawsuit alleged.
A cancellation would have precedent. In 2005, Michigan canceled its contract with the company and shuttered the Michigan Youth Correctional Facility following a lawsuit filed by a youth advocacy group. Louisiana has also canceled a contract with the company.
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