Judge approves plan to move arrested juveniles to Angola

A federal judge ruled that Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ plan to house juveniles at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola can move forward.

Judge Shelly Dick released her ruling late Friday night.

The ruling was in response to a civil class action complaint filed in Baton Rouge on behalf of a juvenile inmate identified as Alex A, a 17-year-old inmate at Bridge City.

The suit against Edwards, Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) Deputy Secretary Bill Sommers and Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc sought a temporary restraining order against the plan and an injunction to block it permanently.

“The prospect of putting a teenager to bed at night in a locked cell behind razor wire surrounded by swamps at Angola is disturbing,” Dick said in her written ruling. “Some of the children in OJJ’s care are so traumatized and emotionally and psychologically disturbed that OJJ is virtually unable to provide a secure care environment. While locking children in cells at night at Angola is untenable, the threat of harm these youngsters present to themselves, and others, is intolerable. The untenable must yield to the intolerable.”

Edwards held a press conference on July 19 to announce the state would temporarily move 25 juveniles in OJJ custody from the Bridge City Center for Youth to Angola.

The announcement was in response to several incidents at OJJ secure care facilities, including riots, attempted and successfull escapes and violence against staff, other youth and members of the public.

OJJ has begun renovating several care facilities across the state, including a newly-renovated transitional treatment unit (TTU) at Swanson-Monroe. The Swanson facility will have 72 beds and is scheduled to be finished in April 2023.

While waiting for repairs on the secure care facilities to be completed, OJJ identified the reception center, an unused building on the Angola campus, that could serve as a TTU with minor modifications.

The building was last used to house female inmates evacutated from St. Gabriel Women’s Prison following the flood in 2016.

Before the reception center was renovated, it was the death row cell block. The building is over a mile from the nearest adult dormitory on the 18,000-acre campus.

“The Court finds that OJJ has shown that it will provide a constitutional level of care to youth transferred to the Temporary Transitional Treatment Unit proposed to be located at Angola,” Dick wrote. “The Court is mindful that the specter of the prison surroundings alone will likely cause psychological trauma and harm. However, the public interest and the balance of harms require that OJJ be afforded the latitude to carry out its rehabilitative mission for the benefit of all youth in its care.”

A date has not been set yet when the youths will be moved to Angola.

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