Teenage inmates removed from Angola grounds amid legal fight over controversial juvenile facility
BATON ROUGE - Some of Louisiana's most troubled juvenile offenders were quietly removed from an embattled facility on the grounds of the Angola penitentiary Friday morning.
The Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice revealed the move in a press release later that same morning.
The announcement came as a surprise to many, given that an appellate court had just sided with the state on Wednesday, stalling an order from a federal judge that would have forced OJJ to removed the teens by end of day Friday. Advocates for the youth were outside of the Governor's mansion, protesting that ruling, when OJJ made the announcement.
That initial ruling from Judge Shelly Dick came after a series of hearings where she was briefed on the failings at the Bridge City Center for Youth in West Feliciana Parish, a pop-up site that was formed by the state last year in response to a rash of breakouts and other problems at Louisiana's juvenile jails.
Among a litany of issues reported by witnesses at the facility, Judge Dick honed in on it's failure to create a proper environment for the juveniles housed there.
"The facility screams 'prison,'" Dick explained as she read from her order last week. She added that the unit was "decidedly punitive and not rehabilitative."
Despite the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issuing a stay in response to Judge Dick's order, the state relocated the OJJ inmates on Friday.
Read the full statement from the Office of Juvenile Justice below:
This morning, the Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) transferred all youth out of the West Feliciana Center for Youth located on the grounds of Louisiana State Penitentiary.
After the District Court ruling last week, OJJ staff made contact with local officials in Jackson Parish who opened a new juvenile justice facility in July of this year. This new local facility, which is already serving youth in local juvenile justice programs, has the capacity to temporarily house OJJ youth while work continues on the new state-run Swanson secure care facility. OJJ officials will work alongside local officials to ensure that OJJ youth housed in Jackson Parish continue to receive rehabilitative services and care that follows state and federal laws and regulations.
OJJ intends to move forward with our appeal of the recent ruling by the U.S. District Court. OJJ continues to disagree with the court’s ruling, which we believe contained several findings about the conditions at the West Feliciana Center for Youth that are at odds with the facts. The West Feliciana Center for Youth was a necessary, but temporary solution to address serious security issues at OJJ facilities across the state that threatened the safety of staff, community members, and youth in our care. The youth who were temporarily housed there received targeted rehabilitative services and care from hardworking OJJ staff, who took extraordinary measures to ensure the facility could successfully serve the youth.
Last year, the legislature passed, and Gov. John Bel Edwards signed, Act 693 into law, which created a tiered system of low-risk, moderate-risk, and high-risk juveniles within OJJ’s secure care facilities.
OJJ’s long-term plan is to transfer all youth needing intensive therapeutic services to the new Swanson Center for Youth at Monroe, which is a Tier 1 secure care facility that is scheduled to open later this year. Once the new Swanson facility is open, we do not anticipate that any youth in OJJ care will be housed in Jackson Parish.
In a press release from the ACLU, David Utter, executive director of Fair Fight Initiative and the lead counsel, said, “This is a victory for the children and their families. The state of Louisiana has subjected these children to harm that no one should have to endure. We are grateful to all the people in Louisiana and across the nation who have been in solidarity with Louisiana’s children — speaking out, raising awareness, signing petitions and protesting on their behalf. All these efforts show our clients how much we believe in their futures.”
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