One of the longest lingering issues in the case over conditions at a central Mississippi youth-detention center has been put to rest.
In late June, Hinds County officials and attorneys for children at Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center agreed to 17 provisions outlined in a memorandum of understanding designed to quell tensions at the heart of a federal settlement agreement.
That agreement was reached in March 2012, after Disability Rights Mississippi and the Mississippi Southern Poverty Law Center sued Hinds County, alleging dangerous and unhealthy conditions at the youth detention center.
As a result, U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan ordered Hinds County, which runs the physical building, to improve in 70 “areas of deficiency.” However, a persistent stumbling block has been Youth Court Judge William “Bill” Skinner II, who oversees the youth court side of the detention facility but is not a party to the consent decree. Skinner and other parties have at times been at loggerheads.
In April, Skinner made a formal request to intervene in the case, writing in a motion that “there is now a direct conflict between the Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center and the Hinds County Youth Court.”
Under the Memorandum of Understanding, filed June 26 after several days of negotiations, Skinner and plaintiffs’ lawyers agreed to dismiss several pending motions. Additionally, Skinner agreed to adhere to a 21-day limit for children housed at the youth jail, but he gets the final say on when the children are released.
Also, disputes are to be first mediated by an outside monitor who conducts periodic visits and reviews of Henley-Young. If the monitor, Leonard B. Dixon, cannot resolve the dispute, the parties can take the dispute to Judge Jordan.
Messages for Judge Skinner and his court administrator were not returned by Monday evening.
Will Bardwell, an attorney for the SPLC, said the agreement seems to be working.
“So far, everybody’s on the same page. That goes for the county and Judge Skinner, and that’s what we always hoped for,” Bardwell said. “If we can maintain that, we can make some real progress.”