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Children who were moved from Louisiana’s juvenile facilities to its notorious maximum security adult prison, known as “Angola,” face unlivable heat conditions and isolation in a former death row chamber, according to a federal court filing.
The ACLU of Louisiana and other advocates have asked a federal judge to immediately transfer all minors out of the Louisiana State Penitentiary’s West Feliciana Center for Youth and to stop transferring more minors to the prison.
“Solitary confinement is even worse for children than it is for adults, and even short periods of solitary can do irreparable harm,” said Tammie Gregg, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project.
According to the filing, one 17-year-old detainee described Angola prison guards using solitary confinement as a form of punishment.
“I have seen other kids locked in their cells for several days and even up to weeks for minor infractions and incidents with guards,” the teen stated. “The guards don’t care about us here.”
He also described faulty air conditioners, foul tasting, discolored water that would make him sick. Meanwhile, another youth claimed there were no educational or mental health services for them to get their life on the right track.
“At other facilities, I could meet with a counselor and work towards achieving my goals. If those services were offered I would want to use them,” the teen said.
Louisiana’s Democratic Gov. John Edwards sued after moving minors to a former slave plantation
On July 19, 2022, Louisiana Democratic Governor John Edwards made the unprecedented decision to move youth under the custody of the Office of Juvenile Justice to the Angola adult prison after six minors escaped from a juvenile facility.
“The escapes from Bridge City cannot and will not continue,” Gov. Edwards said last year.
The site was once a slave plantation that was converted into a prison during the Civil War. As the largest state penitentiary in the U.S., it has long been criticized for inhumane health conditions for adults.
Outraged by the decision, the ACLU National Prison Project and civil rights attorneys filed a federal class-action lawsuit, Alex A. V. Edwards, seeking to prevent the transfers of minors to the Angola prison.
As the mostly Black boys remain trapped in sweltering heat amid the highest recorded temperatures in human history, prison officials have also been accused of placing the youth in solitary confinement for up to 72 hours at a time.
The Black Wall Street Times reached out to Gov. Edward’s office for a response. Nicolette Gordon, a public information officer for the Office of Juvenile Justice, responded to our request:
“While we cannot discuss the details of a pending lawsuit, the Office of Juvenile Justice can confirm that all of the units at the West Feliciana Center for Youth are air conditioned and believes that the youth at the Center are receiving the care they need with very specific and targeted treatments in accordance with the transitional treatment unit guidelines to ensure that both the youth and staff are safe.”Nicolette Gordon, Public Information Officer for the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice.
Experts site “inhumane” conditions for minors at Angola prison
Citing the mental health damage such isolation can inflict on children, a recent court filing in the ongoing lawsuit is asking a federal judge to stop the harmful practices, which, according to the ACLU, include:
- Being placed in solitary confinement for 72 consecutive hours when they arrive — only being released from their cells for a few minutes to shower;
- Being locked in their cells at times for over 23 hours for punishment, only let out to shower in handcuffs and shackles; and
- Being handcuffed and shackled as punishment when they are occasionally allowed to go outside for recreation time.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention also criticized Gov. Edwards’ decision.
“It is now evident that the state had no intention of considering other alternatives, but were instead determined to move these youth to Angola as a way of ‘getting rid’ of what they see as the problem – a group of high risk youth with very complex needs,” OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan said in a statement late last year.
The ACLU of Louisiana noted the state previously mentioned the move would only be temporary and would cease by the Spring of 2023.
“The state promised the Angola facility would close in the spring. The state promised the kids wouldn’t be held in solitary. The state promised the kids would receive their education and treatment. None of this has come to pass. We are asking the judge to take urgent action to put an end to this unprecedented mistreatment,” said David Utter, lead counsel and executive director of the Fair Fight Initiative.