Who’s Minding the Kids?: Have Profits Distorted the Mission of Rehabilitating Inmates at Mississippi’s Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility?

 Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

A few days ago, I was listening to All Things Considered on NPR while I was driving in my car. Host John Burnett was talking about an investigation into Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in Mississippi. The prison facility for youthful offenders is being run by a private company called GEO Group. According to NPR, privatized prison services are a $3 billion dollar industry in this country—and GEO Group is our nation’s second largest for-profit prison operator.

From NPR: “The Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU National Prison Project have filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of 13 inmates against the prison operator, GEO Group, the prison administration and state officials. The complaint describes rampant contraband brought in by guards, sex between female guards and male inmates, inadequate medical care, prisoners held inhumanely in isolation, guards brutalizing inmates and inmate-on-inmate violence that was so brutal it led to brain damage.” 

The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice began an investigation into some of these charges earlier this year. NPR says its own investigation has raised “the fundamental question of whether profits have distorted the mission of rehabilitating young inmates.”

Walnut Grove, the nation’s largest juvenile prison, houses 1,200 boys and young men. It is the only facility that locks up thirteen-year-olds with 22-year-olds. The typical guard-to-inmate ratio is 1 officer to 10 or 12 juvenile prisoners. A state audit of the Walnut Grove facility showed a guard-to-inmate ratio of 1 to 60! Salaries for prison staff are reportedly the largest expenditure of a correctional budget. Evidently, cutting staff is a good way of cutting costs.

The inmates in the Walnut Grove facility outnumber the citizens of the small town by 2 to 1. The prison reportedly pays Walnut Grove $15,000 a month in lieu of taxes. The facility’s payments comprise nearly 15% of the town’s annual budget. The mayor said, “For a small town, that’s a lot of money and it helps us maintain a full-time police department that we wouldn’t be able to afford without that income.” 

State Representative Earle Banks, chairman of Mississippi’s Juvenile Justice Committee, said, “All this community is just making so much money off Walnut Grove that no one wants to upset the applecart. Then that means they’re not gonna make their money anymore.” Banks, a plaintiff’s lawyer, called a recent hearing to investigate Walnut Grove. He is suing the prison for wrongful death of an inmate.

As John Burnett said, “All of this raises the question: Is oversight of the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility negligent because it’s a golden goose?”

Note: There IS a full-time state corrections employee who has the job of monitoring how the prison is run. That employee’s salary is reimbursed by…GEO group.

Listen to the NPR program “Town Relies On Troubled Youth Prison For Profits”

Note: I believe NPR will broadcast the second part of this story on Monday, March 28th.  

Town Relies On Troubled Youth Prison For Profits (NPR)
What Is GEO Group? (NPR)

29 thoughts on “Who’s Minding the Kids?: Have Profits Distorted the Mission of Rehabilitating Inmates at Mississippi’s Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility?”

  1. Meridian, Mississippi Sued By Federal Civil Rights Lawyers For Operating ‘School-To-Prison’ Pipeline
    Posted: 10/25/2012

    Federal civil rights lawyers have filed a lawsuit against Meridian, Mississippi and other defendants in which they accuse city officials of operating a “school-to-prison pipeline” that jails students days at a time for minor infractions, without a probable cause hearing.

    According to the American Bar Association Journal, the policy mainly affects black students and students with disabilities.

    This “school to prison pipeline” claim says students are handcuffed and arrested in school and sent to a youth court and denied constitutional rights for minor infractions like talking back to teachers or violating dress codes. The lawsuit states they are then transported more than 80 miles to the Rankin County youth detention center, reports the Associated Press.

    Many students end up on probation, without being provided proper legal representation and without determining whether there is probable cause when a school wants to press charges. For those placed on probation, a future school violation could be grounds for a suspension they must serve while incarcerated in the juvenile detention center.

    According to the lawsuit, students can be incarcerated for “dress code infractions such as wearing the wrong color socks or undershirt, or for having shirts untucked; tardies; flatulence in class; using vulgar language; yelling at teachers; and going to the bathroom or leaving the classroom without permission.”

    Defendants named in the suit include the city of Meridian, Lauderdale County, the two Lauderdale County Youth Court judges, the Mississippi Department of Human Services and DHS’s Division of Youth Services. The Meridian Public School District is not named as a defendant, but the lawsuit says incarceration is used as a “medium for school discipline,” according to the AP.

    CNN reports the lawsuit comes more than two months after the Justice Department informed local and state officials that they had 60 days to cooperate with an investigation or face legal action.

    Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy Austin noted additional unconstitutional actions on the part of the school district and court that included making children wait more than 48 hours for a hearing, and admit to formal charges without first being advised of their Miranda rights.

  2. Elaine,
    A booming business, except for these two towns! For profit prisons are as nonsensical as for-profit health care.

  3. OS, I am sorry to hear of the loss of your grandson. Your posts here are very much appreciated.

  4. RE: pam kulig, March 28, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    “…the main goal being the breaking of the inmates spirit and then release into the public.”


    Without success on my part, I have attempted to find a more effective way for the commercial prison industry to increase future business, and thereby, future profits.

    …And thereby, future total costs to society?

  5. I have been exposed to Walnut Grove for the past 4 (0+ / 0-)
    1/2 years helping an inmate appeal his life sentence given to him at barely 15 years old, an 8th grader. I have devoted the last 5 years of my life to getting him a new trial. I’ve experienced life at Walnut Grove through him. The NPR report is good but is only the tip of the iceberg of what is wrong with this facility. I have visited him at this gulag every 3 months for the past 2 years driving down from Chicago for a 3 hour visit. I have written about my visits and published them on a blog on his myspace. Brett Jones and Tyler Edmonds were the two youngest kids at Walnut Grove, Tyler being only 13 years old and having to take PC (protective custody) which is 23 hour lockdown for his own safety. He lived like that for 4 years. He was a 6th grader. He has since won his freedom. He had a life sentence. Brett didn’t take PC and came to Walnut Grove after 9 months in adult jail as an 8th grader. He has fought tooth and nail to survive in the grove and teaches young inmates how to survive, and helps to protect them, takes them under his wing. He is now the longest serving inmate in there having gone in at 15 years old. I’ve been with him most of that time. He is about to be transferred when he turns 22 this summer.

    This place is an absolute travesty involving everything wrong with juvenile incarceration from no requirement to leave with a GED to constant strip searches of minors to female guards overseeing the showers to lockdowns to no rehabilitation to the main goal being the breaking of the inmates spirit and then release into the public.


  6. Had I the words, I would write them here.

    As much as I may understand joy, that much may I also understand sorrow.

    Words have again failed me.

  7. OS,

    I am so very sorry for your loss – please know that my thoughts are with you and your family.

Comments are closed.