BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – A major legal battle kicked off Tuesday concerning sending juvenile inmates from the Bridge City facility to Angola.

A federal judge heard testimony in the lawsuit filed by advocates for the young inmates against the state, including Governor John Bel Edwards. Four witnesses took the stand Tuesday.

Topics that were discussed include what the plan is to relocate the juveniles, their mental health, and the medical facilities just to name a few.

The building at Angola designated to house the youths used to be where death row inmates would spend their time. The plaintiffs argue this is not a healthy or safe environment to hold kids.

Their client whose identity and testimony are being sealed from the public is currently incarcerated at Bridge City Center for Youth, and according to a child psychologist who met with him says he fears include being physically and sexually assaulted and he won’t be able to get his high school diploma if he is relocated.

“He’s terrified. He’s a kid who just turned 17,” said Nancy Rosenbloom, the plaintiff’s attorney. “He’s terrified. I mean, he’s trying to be brave, who is up there trying to look brave. But he is scared. He’s having nightmares. He’s having symptoms. Very rare symptoms like pulling on his hair so it comes out.”

Photos of the near-empty medical facility were shown to the court to display how ill-prepared the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) is. Fears that the juveniles will be interacting with adult inmates were also brought up.

While the state says there will not be any cross-over, the plaintiffs bring up that Angola inmates are charged with maintaining the grounds and work as orderlies in the medical facility, leaving the nearest emergency room without offended roughly 35 miles away.

Department of Corrections (DOC) staff will only be used if requested by OJJ. One witness said that the staff has not been trained to work with juveniles.

DOC has relinquished control of the building to OJJ. Upgrades made to the building include:

  • AC units in living corridors
  • Upgrade to the network
  • Contractor visitors for educational based services
  • Camera contractor for security inside
  • Converted bunk beds to single beds
  • Single cells
  • No windows in those cells
  • Expanded outdoor area
  • Expanded wall for special education