BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana’s Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) will pause its plan to move youth from a juvenile facility to the Louisiana State Penitentiary, known as Angola. The pause comes as a result of a federal lawsuit filed last Friday by attorneys representing youth who were in imminent danger of being moved to Angola.
At an initial conference yesterday with Chief Judge Shelly Dick, the state agreed to pause its planned transfer until at least Sept. 15. A hearing on a motion to stop the transfer is scheduled for Sept. 6.
The lawsuit challenges OJJ and Gov. John Bel Edwards’ plan to move young people from the Bridge City Center for Youth juvenile facility to Angola prison. The lawsuit argues that such a move violates federal law and violates the young people’s constitutional rights.
The lawsuit comes as a result of a coalition of youth advocates, including families of youth in juvenile detention, who have been challenging the governor’s plan since July.
The following statements can be attributed as noted:
Ron Haley, Haley & Associates, co-counsel on lawsuit:
“In no circumstance should it ever be acceptable for children to be housed at the Louisiana State Penitentiary or any adult facility.”
David Utter, The Claiborne Firm, co-counsel on lawsuit:
“Louisiana continues to come up with cockamamie schemes to deal with the juvenile system by pushing kids into the adult system. Children are different. Our law allows for that, our Constitution allows for that. Until our leadership actually addresses the problems of the juvenile system, instead of hiding the ball by transferring youth to the adult system, this will continue to be a public policy disaster.”
Hector Linares, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, co-counsel on lawsuit:
“I witnessed first-hand the stress and the trauma the state’s plan has caused for our client, thinking that any day he could be moved to one of the most notorious penitentiaries in the country. We will work tirelessly to make sure no youth are transferred to Angola’s grounds.”
Gina Womack, co-founder and executive director of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC):
“The state’s decision to move children to Angola was a clear signal that system leaders lack vision for what a truly safe society looks like. They only know how to build stronger cages to ramp up punishment and place blame onto children and families. While this is a needed move in the direction of justice, we still need to fulfill the state’s promise of transforming our youth justice system into a holistic model of support and care.”
Tammie Gregg, deputy director, ACLU National Prison Project:
“We are relieved that young people who had been scheduled for transfer to Angola get a temporary reprieve. Not only would moving forward with this transfer be unconstitutional and illegal, it would be devastating for young people — many of whom already have complex mental and behavioral health needs. The solution to their needs isn't to punish them, but to provide them with resources and support.”