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Louisiana Moves Juvenile Offenders to Troubled State Penitentiary at Angola

by Jo Ellen Nott

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) announced on July 19, 2022, that approximately 25 teenage juvenile offenders will be transferred from a residential center near New Orleans to temporary housing at the massive Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, which houses the state’s death row, sparking an outcry from juvenile corrections experts.

The decision was made after a carjacking earlier that same day, during which a 59-year-old man was shot by a teen escapee from New Orleans’ Bridge City Center for Youth who stole the man’s vehicle and went for a joyride with a female companion, who is also a suspect. It was the 26th escape in just the past year from the juvenile detention facility, which has also been plagued with chaotic fights, injuries and a riot, stoking the fears of neighboring residents.

Juvenile offender advocates worry how the teenagers, 80% of them Black, will be kept from the sight and sound of adult prisoners as federal law requires.  Prison officials plan to house the teens in former reception buildings near the entrance to the 18,000-acre Angola complex. 

However, Hector Linares, a law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, pointed out flaws in the plan.  He notes that the infirmary is a shared facility at the Angola prison, so if a teen gets sick or injured, how will staff maintain sight and sound separation from an adult prisoner? On top of that, adult prisoners also serve as trustees charged with preparing and delivering food for those held in the prison, and they perform maintenance of the grounds where the young men will go to exercise.

The state’s Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) was the subject of a 2021 investigation that found boys as young as 14 shackled in solitary confinement for long stretches of time at another juvenile lockup, the Acadiana Center for Youth at St. Martinville. That led to passage in 2022 of a new law, HB 746, limiting the use of solitary confinement for youthful offenders.

Meanwhile, a federal judge in late 2021 enjoined the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections to provide a lengthy list of medical care improvements to Angola’s 6,400 prisoners, finding their health care was constitutionally deficient. [See PLN, Apr. 2022, p.26.]

Glenn Holt, a former top OJJ official, reacted to Gov. Edward’s decision declaring, “Moving kids to your adult maximum security prison campus, where you send adults to die, is the worst juvenile justice policy decision probably ever made in modern times.”

Sources:  NBC News, New Orleans Times-Picayune 

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