Family lawyers and ACLU file lawsuit to stop youths being transferred to Angola

Attorneys for the youths incarcerated at Jefferson Parish and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed a lawsuit to prevent the minors from being transferred to Louisiana State Penitentiary, an adult prison in Angola.

In July, Governor John Bel Edwards has approved a plan from the Office of Juvenile Justice to relocate half of the approximately 50 residents of the Bridge City Center for Youth to Angola following a series of violent incidents at the youth facility. The transfer schedule has not yet been announced.

Last month, Edwards stressed that teenagers and young adults would be held in a separate building on the sprawling Angola campus and would have no contact with adult prisoners. Advocates have denounced the move as running counter to the rehabilitative juvenile justice model that the state has been promising to implement for years.

The lawsuit names Edwards, Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary James LeBlanc and Undersecretary William Sommers as defendants. He asks the court to stop the youngsters’ transfer, saying the plan would put them at ‘substantial risk of serious harm’ in breach of their constitutional rights and their rights under section 504 of the rehabilitation.

Louisiana law explicitly prohibits overlap between youth incarcerated in the juvenile justice system and adult inmates. By law, they must be housed in separate facilities and are not allowed to see or hear each other while locked up.

Louisiana will transfer incarcerated youth to an adult prison. Children’s advocates are worried.

Lawyers Ronald Haley and David Utter, representing incarcerated youths in Bridge City and their families, filed the federal lawsuit on Friday.

“Study after study has shown that incarceration has devastating and lifelong effects on young people – cutting them off from their families, disrupting their education and exposing them to further trauma and violence,” said Nora Ahmed, Legal Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. in a press release. “Transferring these children to an adult prison will only cause more pain and suffering and deprive them of the services, programs and other tools they need for healthy growth, education and development. We should be helping children become productive adults, not hurting them further. »

There was no immediate response to the lawsuit from the governor’s office, the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, or its Office of Juvenile Justice.

The transfer of incarcerated youths to Angola is not a permanent relocation. State officials said they would eventually move to the Jetson Center for Youth in Baker, which is being renovated so it can reopen after it closed in 2014.

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