Appeals Court Allows Louisiana to Keep Children in Angola Prison

September 15, 2023 11:33 am

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NEW ORLEANS, La. — The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is allowing Louisiana to continue to hold children in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, known as Angola.

The district court had ordered the state to remove children from Angola by today, Friday, September 15. But the Fifth Circuit issued a temporary stay this week, pausing the lower court’s order.

In her order, District Court Judge Shelly Dick wrote, “After hearing seven days of testimony and considering thousands of pages of exhibits, the Court finds that the conditions of confinement of the youth incarcerated at Angola constitute cruel and unusual punishment, and the punitive atmosphere and systemic programming failures violate the Fourteenth Amendment.”

In particular, Judge Dick found the state broke “virtually” every promise it had made to the court last September, “causing severe and irreparable harm to the wards that the Office of Juvenile Justice is obliged to help.”

Judge Dick also found the state had:

  • Locked children up in cells for days at a time as a form of punishment.
  • Punished children with the use of handcuffs, mace, and denial of family visits.
  • Failed to provide adequate staffing — including no licensed social worker or professional counselor.
  • Failed to provide appropriate education and special education, where necessary.
  • Failed to provide necessary and appropriate mental health treatment or appropriate social services.

Judge Dick’s written order is available here.

In response to the Fifth Circuit’s temporary stay, David Utter, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, issued the following statement:

“The state’s decision to appeal the district court’s order is extremely disappointing. The district court judge issued damning findings about the state’s treatment of children in Angola after carefully deliberating over evidence presented during a seven-day hearing.

“Every day the kids are in Angola, the state is violating their constitutional rights and subjecting them to cruel and unusual treatment. Instead of fighting the court order and insisting on continuing to punish children and violate their rights, the state should invest its resources in the well-being and future success of all of Louisiana’s children.

“Governor John Bel Edwards has the power to end the Angola experiment and avoid further litigation by ordering the Office of Juvenile Justice to close the facility once and for all.”

The lawsuit is being brought by the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, the ACLU of Louisiana, the Claiborne Firm and Fair Fight Initiative, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and attorneys Chris Murell, David Shanies, and Russell Barksdale.

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