Louisiana is sending youth to Angola prison, which experts say could violate federal law
After a large number of disturbing headlines around hnfAnd the bad management and frequent escape from From a juvenile prison in Louisiana, the state’s governor offered a new solution this week: temporarily relocate teens to Notorious. Angola prison for adults.
Youth advocates, lawyers and experts on juvenile reforms say the decision tramples on modern principles of juvenile justice and could lead to violations of federal law.
“It’s distasteful,” said Glenn Holt, a former senior official with the Louisiana juvenile justice system who is now deputy director of the Arkansas Juvenile Justice Agency.
“Moving children to your high-security prison campus, where you send adults to die,” he said, “is the worst juvenile justice policy decision perhaps made in modern times.”
Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards announced the decision to transfer the teens to the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola on Tuesday after a series of chaotic fights, injuries and hacks from the Bridge City Youth Center near New Orleans, including car stealing by a runaway teenager on Sunday during which a man was killed. Residents of the surrounding community say they live in fear and have called for the facility to be closed.
in Press ConferenceEdwards emphasized that the move in Angola is temporary, and aims to reduce the population in the volatile Bridge City until safer youth facilities are built or renovated. He said the state has too many teens in its care to consider closing Bridge City entirely.
“I understand that this is not the perfect or ideal plan,” Edwards said. “But I believe the situation requires an immediate response and these are the best options we currently have to ensure the safety of young people, staff and the community.”
Edwards said nearly 25 teenagers will be housed in a building near the entrance to the huge Angola complex as soon as next month, after some renovations. The building will be supervised and staffed by the Office of State Juvenile Justice (OJJ).
“They will not have contact with adult inmates and will continue to receive all services they currently receive through OJJ, including education,” Edwards said.
Federal law requires that juveniles be separated – visually and soundly – from adult prisoners. The goal of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate young people so that they can return to their communities, not punish them.
18,000 acres in Angola make it one of the largest prison campuses in the world. It has enough space between buildings so that teens can be held away from adult prisoners, but advocates and experts have questioned whether the state will actually be able to separate the young.
“There are shared facilities, like an infirmary,” said Hector Linares, a professor of law at Loyola University in New Orleans. “If the young man gets sick or gets injured, how will they keep their eyesight and separate proper from the young people who need to go to the infirmary?”
He asked: If teenagers abroad are playing sports, how will the state ensure that they do not encounter prisoners called trustees who do the bulk of the work maintaining buildings and land in Angola and preparing and serving food?
“They’re just asking us to trust them that they’re doing it legally and correctly,” Linares said, but he noted that both the Juvenile Justice Office and the state’s Department of Public Safety and Corrections have turbulent histories. both were Topics From Federal Interventions Recently contracts due to civil rights violations. “They have to show us how they plan to meet the requirements of these laws, and not just say, ‘Oh, it’s a separate building. Trust us.'”
During Tuesday’s press conference, state officials said Angolan prisoners will not provide maintenance or other services in the reception center building where the teenagers will be housed. Instead, the state offers housing on campus in or near Angola to juvenile justice officials who agree to temporarily move to a prison in a rural extension of northern Louisiana near the Mississippi line. The remote prison, a former farm surrounded on three sides by the Mississippi River, is located about two and a half hours from New Orleans.
“For questions regarding cleaning, hiring and educational offerings – this will be managed by OJJ, not corrections,” Edwards spokeswoman Christina Stevens wrote in an email. “The DOC has found a place to house the youth, but the OJJ will be responsible for their care. The youth will be in the OJJ system, and they will simply be temporarily accommodated elsewhere.”
Last year, hampered by serious staffing problems in juvenile facilities, the state responded with violence and quietly escaped by moving teens it considers troublemakers to the Acadiana Youth Center in St. Martinville. The boys under the age of 14 were held there in almost around-the-clock solitary confinement for weeks and denied education and other legally required services.
that Investigation By NBC News, The Marshall Project and ProPublica discovered that teens, who were handcuffed and leg irons when they left their cells to shower, responded violently, throwing feces at guards and using broken pieces of beds and light fixtures to pierce holes in their cells large enough to escape.
The investigation helped pass a new law Reducing solitary confinement for juveniles in Louisiana takes effect next month. Bill Summers, President of OJJ, He confessed At a legislative hearing he was not satisfied with how the facility was run.
In their latest effort, Louisiana officials say the teens will be housed in the Reception Center, a building near the entrance to the Angola campus that has had various uses over the years. More recently, it housed female prisoners who were displaced when a women’s prison was flooded. Prior to this, he earned the name of his reception center by briefly accommodating inmates upon their arrival in Angola. Decades ago, two former inmates and a prison advocate said the facility housed death row inmates.
Stevens said she understood the teens wouldn’t live in the same area that was used on the death row, but noted that the move hasn’t happened yet, and many details are still in the works.
The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections referred questions to the governor’s office. The Juvenile Justice Office responded to questions by sending a link to the governor’s press conference.
Rachel Gassert, an advocate for the Louisiana Center for Child Rights, who filed a complaint that documented the state’s failure to provide education for the first several months after Saint Martinville opened, wondered if the state could actually provide services like private education in Angola.
“In the past, we have seen that the state has failed to provide the services it is supposed to provide,” she said of adolescents in state prisons. “Fail to give them an education, fail to keep them safe or keep the people around them safe, and this is just another step in the wrong direction towards creating worse outcomes for these children and for the society to which they will return.”
Advocates and experts say it’s clear Louisiana needs to do something to respond to the crisis and put an end to the runaways, but they say moving the teens to Angola is not the answer.
“It’s tough,” said Holt, the former Louisiana juvenile justice official. He said telling teens they’re headed to the notorious state prison – they’re accused of abuse And brutality where the inmate Die This week after a quarrel with another prisoner – which would cause “psychological distress” for already traumatized youths.
The the vast majority Of the youth in Louisiana’s juvenile justice system are black teens, including many with mental health problems and those who have experienced trauma.
Louisiana is among the majority of states that have drastically reduced the number of juvenile incarcerated, meaning those who remain are those most in need.
Melissa Sikmond, director of the National Center for Juvenile Justice, which is the research division of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.
“You have escapes and fights. Why?” She said. “This facility is such a bad place that children are desperate to get away from it. If we are trying to rehabilitate children, they cannot be treated as such. Their conditions of confinement must be improved.”