BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – Attorneys and advocates from at least six civil rights groups sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education, urging the federal organization to investigate Louisiana’s decision to move juveniles to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

The move was initially announced in July 2022 when Governor John Bel Edwards announced that some children previously held at the Bridge City Center for Youth would be temporarily transferred to the vacant, former death row building at Angola.

A month after the announcement, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, and Loyola University voiced their concerns about how the detained youths would be cared for. These issues were expressed in an Aug. 3, 2022 letter to several of the state agencies. The document requested a detailed, written plan about how they would deliver education and rehabilitative services to youth housed in Angola. 

The more recent letter, issued on March 20, stated similar concerns.

In the document, multiple civil rights groups inform the U.S. Department of Education that two youths who are involved in a lawsuit challenging the state’s decision to transfer them to Angola are claiming they’ve experienced inhumane conditions, a lack of adequate education and that the needs of disabled incarcerated youths have been largely ignored.

The juveniles report exposure to prolonged isolation in windowless, filthy jail cells as well as having only one teacher who splits their time between two classrooms and provides the same work to all students regardless of grade level or ability.

In addition to this, one student who has several disabilities and an Individualized Education Program claimed they have yet to receive any of the accommodations that are required by their IEP while in the custody of the Office of Juvenile Justice.

The concerned advocates allege that placing youngsters like these in the nation’s largest adult maximum-security prison facility will have a negative impact on their futures.

The activists’ letter emphasizes the negative impact that they feel this experience will have on Black youths who are incarcerated, as these individuals make up approximately 83% of those in OJJ’s custody. The letter points out that this statistic seems high because Black children comprise only 31% of Louisiana’s total population.

The advocates claim that the inordinate number of youth incarcerations is the result of policies and practices that disproportionately push Black students out of school and into the juvenile legal system.

Their document requests that the Department of Education open a broader investigation into the system of education for all the state’s secure care facilities. 

It stated, in part, “Children do not forfeit their educational rights when they enter custody. Every student in Louisiana has the right to an education under state law, including the right to attend school through their 19th birthday.”

The letter was signed by lawyers and policy advocates for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights (LCCR), ACLU National Prison Project, ACLU of Louisiana, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, and Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children. 

The OJJ issued the following Tuesday, March 21 statement in response to the letter:

Per agency practice, OJJ does not comment on specific allegations with pending litigation matters. In general OJJ believes that education is a key component in the rehabilitation of all youth placed in state custody, and we strive to create a safe environment conducive for learning.

Deputy Secretary Curtis Nelson, Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice

The full letter from the civil rights groups can be viewed below.