Judge rules in favor of Polk County sheriff in federal lawsuit over juvenile detainees

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BARTOW, Florida — A U.S. District judge on Thursday ruled in favor of the Polk County Sheriff's Office in a federal lawsuit that alleged juveniles were being held in harsh conditions at the jail.

Judge Steven D. Merryday said that the Southern Poverty Law Center failed to prove its case against the sheriff's office or Corizon, the company contracted to treat juveniles.

The lawsuit was filed in 2012 on behalf of seven juveniles. They alleged the overly harsh conditions at the jail were caused by poor supervision, inadequate rehabilitative programs and an overuse of pepper spray.

Sheriff Grady Judd denied the allegations, saying pepper spray was used as a last resort on juveniles who refused to obey commands.

Judd said the law center's allegations "were not supported by the facts or court precedence."

Officials with the Southern Poverty Law Center said they were happy that some of the practices they had concerns about, such as prolonged isolation, have ended since they filed their lawsuit.

"We're disappointed in the court's decision and believe it's a missed opportunity to recognize our nation's progress in treating children differently from adults, including when they are detained pending trial," managing attorney Tania Galloni said in a statement. "We're carefully reviewing the judge's decision and will discuss with our clients their options."

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