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12-18-2003, 07:20 PM,0,3761344.story?coll=sns-ap-nationworld-headlines

Feds Sue Mississippi Over Alleged Abuse

Associated Press Writer

December 18, 2003, 12:26 PM EST

WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department filed a civil rights lawsuit Thursday against the state of Mississippi, alleging abuse of juvenile offenders at two state-run facilities. Some youths were tied to poles or forced to eat their own vomit, prosecutors said.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. R. Alexander Acosta, assistant attorney general for civil rights, said negotiations between federal and state officials failed to address the problems identified in a year-long federal investigation of the Oakley Training School in Raymond and the Columbia Training School in Columbia.

Oakley houses about 325 boys and Columbia houses about 200 boys and girls. Most are non-violent offenders.

Among the abuses uncovered: suicidal girls were stripped and placed in solitary confinement in a dark cell with only a drain for a toilet, boys were forced to run with mattresses strapped to their backs, girls who threw up while running in the heat were forced to eat their vomit, and youths were tied to poles or hog-tied.

"This is no way to set juvenile offenders on the course to law-abiding and productive lives," Acosta said.

Of 33 investigations of state-run juvenile facilities, nursing homes and other institutions nationwide, this is the first time the Justice Department felt the need to ask the federal courts to intervene, he said.

"Given the nature and the pattern of the violations identified, we believe that a remedy backed by the authority of the federal judiciary is necessary," Acosta said.

Acosta said that both facilities have less than two-thirds of the needed staff and the shortages have prevented state officials from dismissing abusive employees.

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