Federal judge hears arguments aimed at blocking planned transfer of violent juvenile offenders to Angola

Published: Sep. 6, 2022 at 7:00 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WVUE) - A federal judge on Tuesday (Sept. 6) heard arguments from opponents of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ plan to transfer some of the most violent juvenile inmates from the Bridge City Center for Youth to temporary housing at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

“They want to rush these kids out of Bridge City and from the other places and just shove them here,” plaintiffs attorney Ronald Haley said.

Haley and other civil rights attorneys are suing the governor and the Office of Juvenile Justice, claiming the juvenile offenders’ needs for education, rehabilitation and other resources will not be met at Angola.

Edwards says the transfer plan to a refurbished building at Angola - where the youth would be segregated from the adult prison population - is the state’s best option to keep people safe following multiple escapes, riots and violence at Bridge City, and other juvenile facilities in dire need of repair.

“It’s the best option available to us,” Edwards said. “We have a facility that is in good working order. And, in fact, it’s better than the other facilities that we currently have youth in.”

Plaintiffs attorney David Utter, however, disagrees.

“It’s really a bad idea,” Utter said. “And this facility that they are putting so much attention on and so much money on is never going to be OK.”

During Tuesday’s court hearing, U.S. District Judge Shelly D. Dick heard from a juvenile inmate who testified anonymously about being transferred.

“He was up there and trying to look brave, but he is scared,” plaintiffs attorney Nancy Rosenbloom said.

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A staff officer at Angola also took the stand. She told the court that the juveniles would be housed in the former death row building at Angola. She said the building would be designated an unauthorized area, fully segregated from and more than a mile from the prison’s adult inmate population.

“They won’t see any of the adult inmates,” Edwards said.

The staffer also testified that the youth would be alone in cells without windows.

“They have bars,” Rosenbloom said. “They don’t have doors like a youth facility. There is no window. The children can’t see out.”

A doctor from the Office of Juvenile Justice also took the stand to give her take on the transfer. She said she believes the government didn’t give enough notice to the parents of the juveniles and that more needs to be done to properly rehabilitate them.

According to an internal document obtained by the Lens, the program will rely on a cognitive behavioral approach. It said the youth will have access to educational, medical and mental health services.

“It’s not a permanent step,” Edwards said. “But it is the best option available to us and it remains the plan.”

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