Family attorneys, ACLU file lawsuit to halt transfer of youths to Angola

By: - August 22, 2022 7:40 pm
Bridge City Center for Youth

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit to block the transfer of incarcerated juveniles at the Bridge City Center for Youth to an adult facility, Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. (Photo by Greg LaRose/Illuminator)

Attorneys for youth incarcerated in Jefferson Parish and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed a lawsuit to prevent the transfer of the juveniles to Louisiana State Penitentiary, an adult prison at Angola.

In July, Gov. John Bel Edwards approved a Office of Juvenile Justice plan to move half of the approximately 50 residents at the Bridge City Center for Youth to Angola following a string of violent incidents at the youth facility. A timeline for the transfer has not yet been announced. 

Last month, Edwards emphasized the teenagers and young adults would be kept in a separate building on Angola’s sprawling campus and would have no contact with adult prisoners. Advocates decried the move as contrary to the rehabilitative juvenile justice model the state has been promising to implement for years.  

The lawsuit names Edwards, Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc and Deputy Secretary William Sommers as defendants. It asks the court to halt the transfer of the youths, claiming the plan would put them in “substantial risk of serious harm” in violation of their constitutional rights and their rights under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Louisiana law explicitly prohibits overlap between incarcerated youth in the juvenile justice system and adult prisoners. By statute, they must be housed in separate facilities and are not allowed to see or hear each other while locked up.

Louisiana will move incarcerated youth to an adult prison. Child advocates are worried.

Attorneys Ronald Haley and David Utter, representing youth incarcerated at Bridge City and their families, filed the federal lawsuit Friday.

“Study after study has shown that incarceration has devastating, lifelong effects on young people — cutting them off from their families, disrupting their education, and exposing them to further trauma and violence,” Nora Ahmed, legal director for the ACLU of Louisiana, said in a news release. “Transferring these children to an adult prison will only cause more pain and suffering, and deprive them of the services, programming, and other tools they need for healthy growth, education, and development. We should be helping kids to grow into productive adults, not harming them further.”

There was no immediate response to the lawsuit from the governor’s office, the Department of Public Safety and Corrections or its Office of Juvenile Justice. 

The transfer of incarcerated youth to Angola isn’t a permanent relocation. State officials have said they will eventually be moved to the Jetson Center for Youth in Baker, which is undergoing renovations so it can be reopened after being closed in 2014.

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Among his recognitions are McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association. Muller is an alumnus of Jesuit High School and the University of New Orleans and is a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Louisiana with his wife and two sons.

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