OJJ deputy secretary defends West Feliciana juvenile facility in court
BATON ROUGE - On the fourth of day of testimony, attorneys representing juveniles housed at the Bridge City Center for Youth, West Feliciana, rested their case.
"I think the evidence shows what is happening at the facility," attorney and executive director for Fair Fight Initiative, David Utter said.
Youth justice expert Dr. Patrick McCarthy resumed his testimony from yesterday. He said that housing kids behind bars worsens their aggressive behavior, and that how they are treated inside contributes to choices later on.
"Kids in an adult prison environment is not appropriate," Utter said.
Dr. Lee Anthony Underwood, one of the creators of the program, gave extensive testimony about the TTU program, but Judge Shelly Dick specifically told attorneys the TTU's success is not being challenged. She was personally interested in hearing if Underwood, had a different viewpoint about kids' mental health when they are put behind bars.
"We have always been concerned what is happening to these kids at this facility, that is why we filed the complaint, and our concerns continue," Utter said.
When asked about the new facility being built, Utter told WBRZ youth need more community support to prevent them from committing crimes in the first place.
"Louisiana doesn't need more cells, or more facilities, it needs more treatments for kids in the community," Utter said.
The gateway to the youth facility at Angola is officially closed for the time being. Before court broke for recess at noon, Judge Dick says no juveniles will be transferred to the campus until she makes her ruling.
Underwood's testimony will resume Monday at 9 am. It is unclear if Judge Dick will make an immediate decision to shut it down.
For the third day this week, a federal judge listened to testimony about housing juvenile offenders at the Bridge City Center for Youth in West Feliciana, which is also referred to as Angola.
Since October, juveniles in the OJJ, or Office of Juvenile Justice, system who engage in the worst behavior at other facilities have been taken to the West Feliciana campus. The temporary campus is part of the OJJ’s new Transitional Treatment Unit (TTU).
Previous testimonies revealed the TTU is a 4-8 week program that takes kids away from their current facility after violent incidents.
For four hours, the court heard from Curtis Nelson, the Deputy Secretary of the OJJ. Nelson testified the TTU program is working, as he cited the decrease of violent incidents in facilities since last summer.
Nelson expressed concerns to the court about the potential closure of the West Feliciana campus, as the Swanson Monroe facility that would house juveniles is still being built.
According to Nelson, the "state of the art" facilities contains 72 beds as well as indoor and outdoor gyms. However, it is expected to finished around November or December.
The move is being challenged in federal courts for several reasons. The ACLU mentioned complaints about no air conditioning in the facility and questioned the education being provided.
Nelson called the facility an alternative school and told the court they are doing the best they can. He testified to the claims of the A/C by saying, before the hot summer, staff members requested jackets because it was so cold.
Nelson also told the court he did not find any of the system's formal complaints about anything being challenged in court by the plaintiff's complaint.
In the last two days, six others have testified, which includes the head director of the facility, an instructor, two justice specialists, and two experts testifying about education and health conditions when it comes to A/C. Both experts had documents to show inside A/C temperatures were as high as 90 degrees, and there was a small amount of documented in-person learning time.
Testimonies also confirmed to the court there is only one classroom available for use. Additionally, juveniles injured a justice specialist and tore down all the cameras in the classrooms three months ago.
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