BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — The state is appealing to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to keep minors housed in the state penitentiary at Angola.

Chief U.S. District Shelley Dick denied the motion to stay her preliminary injunction this week while the issue is being appealed.

On Friday, Sept. 8, Dick ordered that the state move juvenile justice detainees being held at Louisiana State Prison to different facilities no later than Friday, Sept. 15.

The state filed a request for the issue to be heard by a federal appeals court. The Office of Juvenile Justice argues there currently aren’t other facilities secure enough to contain the minors being held at the former death row (called Bridge City Center for Youth at West Feliciana).

In mid-2022, Gov. John Bel Edwards and OJJ announced that some detainees would be housed at BCCY-WF, citing security and housing needs. The plan, OJJ Deputy Secretary Curtis Nelson Jr. has said, was to move them out from Angola as soon as a new maximum-security facility for youth is completed in Monroe.

In 2022, a group of incarcerated youth appealed the move to Angola before it happened, citing fear and anxiety about potential conditions. After hearings, the federal court allowed minors to be moved to the state prison campus.

In July 2023, the juvenile plaintiffs asked to be moved from the facility, arguing their living arrangements hadn’t met federal and state laws and constitutional rights had been violated.

According to court filings on behalf of the plaintiffs, 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.
  • prevented from visiting with their families.

Other concerns included using mace on the minors and lack of staffing and support for mental health, social services and education or special education.

In an earlier ruling to certify the plaintiffs’ standing in court, the judge noted that the facility can house about 25 to 30 youths. Prior testimony had assured the court that about 5% of OJJ detainees would meet the criteria to be placed there.

Currently, there are about 356 minors in OJJ custody.

Since it opened, she said, “current OJJ records indicate that between 70 and 80 youth have been cycled through BCCY-WF.”

Dick wrote:

“There is evidence before the Court suggesting that youth are being threatened with transfer to BCCY-WF in a punitive manner and that ‘cell restriction’ is likewise being administered as punishment. There is also evidence before the Court that youth are being placed in cell restriction for several consecutive days, eating meals in their cells, and receiving purported educational services in their cells. Hearing evidence also suggests that youth housed at BCCY-WF are not receiving the required level of services that were promised to be delivered by OJJ and that are required by law.”

Also, on Tuesday, Sept. 12, attorneys representing the minors filed a request with the court to make OJJ communicate about where their clients are. They said they’ve been prevented from visiting clients and haven’t been able to communicate with them and asked for the court’s aid by 5 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 13.