BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — A federal judge on Friday, Sept. 8, ruled that the state of Louisiana can’t keep minors at Angola.
Chief U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick ordered the state to remove minors being held at Louisiana State Penitentiary by Friday, Sept. 15. The Office of Juvenile Justice has been holding juveniles in the former death row facility.
Gov. John Bel Edwards and the OJJ announced last year that minors would be held at Angola because of housing and security needs. The plan, OJJ Deputy Secretary Curtis Nelson Jr. said, was always to move them out from Angola as soon as a new maximum-security facility for youth is completed in Monroe.
“The ruling, while it addressed safety and security, it ignored it as the primary concern that is the OJJ’s first and foremost concern, the security of the youth, the security of the staff, and the security of the public,” said Lem Montgomery, a lawyer representing the OJJ.
Lawyers for the teens, including the ACLU, filed a motion in July alleging unconstitutional and inhumane conditions. (The litigation team for the boys includes: ACLU’s National Prison Project, the ACLU of Louisiana, the Claiborne Firm and Fair Fight Initiative, the Southern Poverty Law Center and attorneys Chris Murell and David Shanies.)
According to an emergency filing by the ACLU, minors were punished by being:
- put in solitary.
- kept in cells for more than 23 hours a day.
- kept handcuffed and shackled when showering or during outside rec time.
Other concerns included using mace on the minors; withholding family time; and lack of staffing and support for mental health, social services and education or special education.
“We stand ready with the state to close this facility, this horrible experiment,” said David Utter of the Fair Fight Initiative and lead council for the plaintiffs. “Louisiana should be ashamed of how these kids are treated. This was all done in our name with our tax dollars.”
“These kids had to be used as an experiment for people to start to wake up, and it’s unfortunate because it’s always Black kids that always have to be used as an experiment for people to open their eyes up,” said Antonio Travis, the youth coordinator for Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children.
In a news release, the ACLU said Dick gave an oral ruling today and will provide a written one later.
“For almost 10 months, children — nearly all Black boys — have been held in abusive conditions of confinement at the former death row of Angola – the nation’s largest adult maximum security prison. We are grateful to our clients and their families for their bravery in speaking out and standing up against this cruelty,” Utter said.
“Now, it is time for Louisiana’s leaders to provide the appropriate care and support so all children can thrive and reach their full potential,” he continued. “We demand investment in our children, not punishment. State officials must address the long-standing, systemic failures in Louisiana’s juvenile justice system. A state where all our children — Black, Brown, and white — have equal access to opportunity is possible.”
Nelson said the OJJ disagreed with the ruling and will seek an emergency writ.
“Last year, after a series of high-profile and violent incidents at OJJ facilities, the office of Juvenile Justice temporarily repurposed a facility on the grounds of Louisiana State Penitentiary as a transitional treatment facility for high-risk youth,” said Nelson. “The decision was not made lightly but with inadequate space at existing OJJ facilities, immediate action was necessary to protect the youth, staff, and surrounding communities.
“OJJ has taken extraordinary measures to ensure the temporary West Feliciana Facility complies with state and federal law requiring the youth to continue receiving education classes, have suitable living conditions, and be completely separated from any adult inmates,” he continued. “The West Feliciana Facility has allowed us to keep community members, staff, and youth in our care safe, but the plan has always been to close the temporary facility as soon as possible and move the high-risk youth upon completion of the new Swanson secure care facility, which is scheduled to open later this year. While we disagree with the court’s ruling today and will be seeking an emergency writ, we will continue to explore every option available to us that ensures the safety of staff, community members, and youth in our care.”
This story is breaking and will be updated.