State officials in Mississippi closed the Columbia Training School prison facility for teenaged girls last week. The facility has been under fire for years over allegations of physical and sexual abuse by the staff.
In 2004, the US Department of Justice sued Mississippi over the brutal conditions at the Columbia Training School. The 2004 suit included allegations of brutal treatment that included forcing the girls to eat vomit. In 2005, the state promised to make improvements, but a court monitor overseeing the school’s progress reported that there were still problems, according to the Hattiesburg America.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed suit against the state of Mississippi seven months ago over the treatment of girls at the facility, including painful shackling of girls for weeks at a time. The Center also demanded that the state provide mental health and rehabilitative services.
Columbia Training School held girls aged 10 to 18 for infractions like shoplifting and truancy, reports Hattiesburg America. The girls will be moved to the Oakley Training School, a boy’s facility where separate housing will be provided.
“We applaud the governor’s wisdom in making this decision,” said Bear Atwood, director of the SPLC’s Mississippi Youth Justice Project, in a press release. “It takes courage and foresight to change the status quo. We are heartened that Mississippi is realizing that harsh punishment for juveniles who commit minor offenses is not only ineffective but counterproductive.”