Louisiana may change juvenile detention evacuation policies after Hurricane Ida

Commission wants to prevent sending minors to an adult prison again

By: - December 11, 2021 8:00 am

Teens from the Juvenile Justice Intervention Center were evacuated to Hunt before Hurricane Ida (Photo by JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator)

A state commission focused on juvenile criminal justice issues recommended Friday that Louisiana strengthen state laws so that  juvenile detainees are no longer evacuated to adult prisons or jails.  

Advocates and parents said  36 teens from the New Orleans Juvenile Justice Intervention Center were traumatized when they were sent to Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, an adult prison, for several days around Hurricane Ida. 

Critics of the move said that parents weren’t notified of where the kids went, and that the evacuation was technically illegal, since Louisiana law stipulates that detention center youth can’t be held with adult offenders.  

New policy recommendations discussed during the Friday Juvenile Justice Reform Act Implementation Commission meeting seek to address these complaints. 

 The commission wants to require detention centers to accept children and teenagers from other evacuating detention centers as needed. State Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, said the New Orleans detention center had difficulty finding a juvenile facility to take its evacuees ahead of Ida.

The group also recommends that Louisiana shore up existing laws that make it illegal to put juvenile detainees in adult lockup. 

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Louisiana’s prison system and other state officials have insisted that moving the New Orleans teens to an adult prison wasn’t illegal because the teenagers were kept in a separate building from where adult prisoners sleep. Child welfare advocates have maintained that the evacuation was still illegal, though they are in favor of adding language to the law that they believe would add clarity to the existing ban on mixing juvenile detainees with incarcerated adults. 

The commission is also recommending that guardians and parents be notified of their children’s whereabouts once the teens have been safely evacuated, and then again when the children are returned to their original juvenile detention center. 

Others recommendations  are devoted to releasing youth ahead of storms and severe weather events–the proposal would have centers develop protocols and agreements with juvenile courts to release more youths before evacuation. 

All of the changes would require amendments to state law and the Louisiana Legislature’s approval. 

Duplessis said he supported adding the new language. 

“We should at least have a very clear plan on where the kids are going, families should be notified and we shouldn’t be housing them with or near adults,” he said. 

Gina Womack, the executive director of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, worked with other advocacy groups on the proposals. 

Her organization, Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, filed a lawsuit against the city of New Orleans in October over the evacuation of the Juvenile Justice Intervention Center, in conjunction with a parent whose 15-year-old was held at Hunt during the evacuation. 

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

Rachel Mipro has previous experience at WBRZ and The Reveille and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Louisiana State University. At LSU, she worked as an opinion editor for The Reveille and as a nonfiction editor for the university’s creative writing journal. In her free time, she enjoys baking, Netflix and hiking.

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