Juveniles report extreme heat without air conditioning at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. (Photo from Alex A. v. Edwards lawsuit.)
State officials voluntarily transferred all incarcerated youth Friday from a temporary detention center on the grounds of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola despite an appeals court ruling earlier this week that delayed a deadline for their court-ordered relocation.
According to an Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) press release, its staff transferred the youth to a juvenile detention facility in Jackson Parish that just opened in July. The new facility has the capacity to house the youth while work continues on the new state-run secure care facility in Monroe that officials plan as a permanent site.
The action comes after recent court rulings in a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana filed last year when Gov. John Bel Edwards announced the state would start sending children to Angola because six juveniles had escaped from the Bridge City Center for Youth in Jefferson Parish. The ACLU argued that conditions at the Angola facility were cruel and unsafe to the point that the youth’s constitutional rights were being violated.
Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Shelly Dick ordered the OJJ to stop housing youth at Angola and relocate them to a different facility by Friday. However, the OJJ then brought the case to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans and successfully obtained a stay of that order Wednesday, halting the one-week deadline.
It’s unclear why the OJJ would relocate the youth shortly after winning a stay, but the appeals court granted the order on only a short-term basis pending a full review of the state’s request. Attorneys for the youths were scheduled to respond to the stay request Friday.
Roughly 15 teenagers were reported to be held at the Angola unit as of last week. State officials have said between 70 to 80 children have been transferred to and from the Angola facility in the past year.
Youths sent to the Angola unit would typically spend four to eight weeks there, where the state said they completed rehabilitative programming based on cognitive behavioral therapy. The youths would then transfer back to general population juvenile detention facilities. But at the end of the district court hearing this summer, Dick found that youths sent to the prison had been “traumatized, victimized and significantly harmed,” she said.
The OJJ still intends to move forward with its appeal of Dick’s ruling and continues to disagree with the court’s findings regarding the conditions at the Angola unit, which the agency said were “at odds with the facts.”
“The youth who were temporarily housed there received targeted rehabilitative services and care from hardworking OJJ staff, who took extraordinary measures to ensure the facility could successfully serve the youth,” the agency said in a press release.
The OJJ’s long-term plan is to transfer all youth needing intensive therapeutic services to the new Swanson Center for Youth at Monroe, which is scheduled to open later this year. Once the new Swanson facility is open, the agency doesn’t anticipate it will need to rely on the detention center in Jackson Parish.
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