Disability Rights Mississippi and the Southern Poverty Law Center's Mississippi Youth Justice Project are suing Lauderdale County over conditions in the county's 30-bed juvenile detention center. The lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court.
The groups say they are suing Lauderdale County because it is their right to access the juvenile detention center here.
"So we have a federal right to access the facility, to enter the facility, to meet with youth, tour the facility and see what it's like there and to access records," said Poonam Juneja, attorney for Disability Rights Mississippi.
The two organizations are asking a federal court to issue an order requiring the county to comply with their request for access.
Juneja said the organizations want to inspect the center after hearing reports from various sources that youth are being locked down in unsanitary, overcrowded, and abusive conditions from various sources.
"These sources have included the state agency responsible for monitoring conditions within the facility, youth who have been in the facility, as well as the county's grand jury," Juneja said.
Some of the reports claim the staff has used mace or pepper spray on the minors in the facility.
Devin Jefferson has been in and out of the Lauderdale County Juvenile Detention Center four times. He backs up those reports of mace being used.
"You will get maced," said Jefferson. "They might tell you that it's not going to happen but you will get maced."
Sarah Grady had a grandson in the detention center. She said her main concern is lack of education.
"When they need an education, you need to be there to give them an education," said Grady. "Because when they're in the juvenile center locked up, they can't get an education."
The lawsuit represents only one side of a legal argument.
Hank Florey, president of the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors, said in a phone interview Monday that the center is working on a punch list from state corrections to upgrade.
Lauderdale County administrator Mike Sumrall said Monday that "substantial improvements" have been made at the center the past two years. He said Lauderdale spends more on its juvenile center than some counties with similar populations, such as Jones County and Forrest County.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.