Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Justice and the State of Mississippi have jointly selected a juvenile justice expert at the American Institutes for Research to monitor the state’s progress toward improving two of its juvenile justice facilities.
Recently, Mississippi and federal authorities reached an agreement stemming from a 2003 Department of Justice lawsuit that led to a court order requiring the state to take corrective measures.
The lawsuit, against the State of Mississippi and the Mississippi Department of Human Services, claimed that conditions at the Oakley and Columbia Training Schools violated the Constitutional rights of the juveniles confined there. Federal investigators, acting on a series of complaints, found that the youth were confined in unsafe conditions and received inadequate treatment and care.
Joyce Burrell, a senior research analyst at AIR, will serve as the federal monitor who will track the state’s progress in complying with the provisions laid out in the consent decree. Areas that will be examined include conditions of confinement, suicide prevention policies and procedures, education curricula and assessments, access to proper medical and mental health treatment, visitation policies and procedures, classification of where the child should be placed, and the access the juveniles have to lawyers.
In addition, Burrell will look at staff training procedures and whether the staff at the institutions is adequately trained on the policies and procedures of each facility. As the monitor, she will have access to all facility and Division of Youth Services records and will be able to interview juveniles confined there, teachers, staff, medical personnel, and others.
“Their system is small and fixable,” said Burrell. “Commitment to making the changes by all parties concerned will lead to positive outcomes for children who have to experience the juvenile justice system in Mississippi.”
Burrell will work with both parties’ pool of expert consultants to reach a consensus on monthly findings and will evaluate the extent to which the State has complied with each substantive provision of the consent decree.
The Mississippi Department of Human Services operates the Oakley and Columbia training schools through the Division of Youth Services. Juveniles from across the state are sent to the facilities, where the average length of stay is two to three months, but some may stay up to six months or longer. Both facilities function using military-style programs for delinquent boys ranging in age from 10 to 17, and girls ages 10 to 18.
Burrell, who has 20 years of experience in juvenile justice, currently directs the National Evaluation and Technical Assistance Center for Children Who are Neglected, Delinquent, or At Risk at AIR. She provides juvenile justice-related technical assistance to 63 communities serving seriously emotionally disturbed youth and their families as part of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services Program to Children and Their Families. Prior to joining AIR, Burrell spent 13 years in leadership roles in systems in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, and four years as the deputy director of the Philadelphia Department of Human Services.
The American Institutes for Research, founded in 1946, is a leader in the behavioral and social sciences. AIR is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization engaged in domestic and international research, development, evaluation, analysis, product development, training and technical assistance and assessment.