BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – Advocates rallied at the Capitol steps to stop juveniles from transferring to the state prison, Angola.
Youth justice advocates started their rally at the Office of Juvenile Justice and trailed all the way to the state Capitol steps to deliver the message that no child belongs at Angola, an adult prison.
“Do we want our children to see and actively be engaged in that type of environment? I don’t care if they’re claiming they’ll be separated. Separate is not enough. They shouldn’t be there in the first place,” stated Terry Landry Jr., the policy director for Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund.
Gina Womack, the executive director for Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, continued, “What our youth need is therapy, education, community, and healing so that we do not lose another generation of children.”
Advocates believe the delay is not enough. They have collected over 1,200 signatures demanding Governor John Bel Edwards abandon moving the youth from Bridge City to Angola. They instead want the youth invested in.
“And we’re not standing here before you condoning or justifying any wrongdoing that has been done by anyone. But we also must address the wrongdoing that is being done by adults to our children. As Gina said, they need some attention. They need some care. They need some love. Not jail cells,” explained Landry.
One mother, Molly Smith, said her worst fear is the day her son calls her saying he is being moved.
“We expect services that they promise and they are not getting it. Mental health. Educational and rehabilitation are one. We need rehabilitation, not just throwing them away to fix their problem,” she said.
16-year-old Annika Bania, they just want help.
“We don’t have people to, like, look up to or to hear us. The school systems are set to fail us. We don’t really have teachers who, like, care enough,” she said.
Attorney Ron Haley served an injunction on Governor Edwards, OJJ, and the department of corrections. He believes Angola will never be the answer, especially when officials are still saying it’s a work in progress.
“The fact that you can make an announcement on July 19th, the kids are going to Angola and yet we’re about two weeks away from that deadline hitting and the plan is still a work in progress. We’re not even fully staffed. What we receive is essentially a blueprint with job titles, with no names attached to them,” Haley said.
Landry followed with, “The system has failed these children. We as adults have failed these children. These children. Let’s not fail them again. Do not send them to Angola.”
They say the next fight is in court on Sept. 6 and Sept. 7.