Louisiana spent $550,000 making Angola suitable for incarcerated youth

By: - November 19, 2022 6:00 am
Entrance to Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola

(Photo by Jarvis DeBerry)

The Office of Juvenile Justice spent $550,000 to renovate the former death row facility at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola so they could use it to house incarcerated youth over the next year

Interim Deputy Secretary Curtis Nelson told state senators Friday the money was spent on security cameras, new classrooms, a medical facility and air conditioning. The outside recreation area was upgraded and black fabric added to the fence around the building so  adult prisoners at Angola can’t see into the youth facility.

The goal of the renovation was to make the building “less punitive, more rehabilitative,” Nelson said.

The money was spent on what is supposed to be a temporary facility. Nelson said he plans to close the building at Angola once the new Swanson Center for Youth in Monroe is open. Construction is expected to finish in December 2023.

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That $550,000 price tag doesn’t include the cost of juvenile justice staff at Angola, a maximum security prison in sparsely populated West Feliciana Parish. 

The Office of Juvenile Justice had planned to pay more to employees from the Bridge City Center for Youth in Jefferson Parish to work extra shifts at Angola – and provide them temporary housing on the grounds during those shifts.

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ decision to house incarcerated youth at an adult prison has drawn widespread criticism from child welfare advocates and federal officials. Young people in the juvenile justice system can range in age from 11 to 21 years-old. 

“We recommend that children be immediately removed from Angola,” Liz Ryan, administrator of the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, said this week

The governor has said the Angola site is needed to house incarcerated youth with the most severe behavioral problems. State juvenile facilities have struggled with escapes, violence and riots over the past two years. The building at Angola is considered more secure than other sites. 

But the relocation to Angola hasn’t brought an end to violent attacks.

Two of the seven incarcerated youth held at Angola allegedly assaulted an employee this week, Nelson said. The young men, both 18, were arrested and transferred to the local adult jail. They now face adult criminal charges.

That leaves just five incarcerated youth at Angola for now. Nelson said the site has a current capacity for up to eight. If more staff is hired, it will be able to hold 24 young people. 

Nelson agreed to many of the facility upgrades made at the Angola site during a federal court hearing in September. A group of civil rights attorneys unsuccessfully sued the state to stop the transfer of youth to Angola. Judge Shelly Dick allowed the state to go forward with its plan, in part because Nelson said he would renovate the building where the young people would be housed. 

But the adult prison isn’t the only place where Louisiana is spending more money on juvenile justice security. Legislators on Friday agreed to spend $1.2 million more on the new Swanson Center for Youth in Monroe to add more security features to the building. 

This follows two previous increases in the price of the Swanson project. The total cost of its construction has gone from $22.7 million in March 2021 to $27.4 million.


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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press.