Attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Friday (April 19) to prevent the transfer of youth currently detained at Bridge City Center for Youth to Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, an adult facility with an environment that would place youth at imminent and grave risk of serious harm.

“There are no circumstances under which it would be safe, legal, or appropriate to house youth at a notorious adult penitentiary like Angola,” says Hector Linares of the Loyola Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice. “Nothing we have seen to this point leads us to believe this is anything but an ill-conceived and impulsive decision that will only heighten the crisis at OJJ rather than do anything to resolve it.”

The lawsuit contends that it is the state’s own chain of systemic failures that has caused the issues that plague the Bridge City Center for Youth.

“State leadership has had ample opportunity to enact meaningful reforms that act in the best interest of our young people, but instead the state has continued to push forward unjust policies and actions that only further traumatize incarcerated youth, their families, and communities. That is why families are now having to find legal remedies for the state’s failures,” says Gina Womack, co-founder and executive director of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC). “The move defies all common sense and best practices, and it will cause irrevocable damage to our youth and families.”

“The move to put youth in Angola ignores decades of research showing young people in adult lock-ups makes us less safe, not more”, said David Utter of The Claiborne Firm, one of the lawyers who filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of youth and families.  “The idea that Louisiana is pursuing a policy of placing youth in an adult prison in 2022 truly shocks the conscience.”

“The State of Louisiana has ignored the comprehensive problems within the juvenile justice for decades.” said Ronald Haley, one of the attorneys representing the youth and their families. “Now, these problems have been deemed unmanageable and the solution is to send our troubled youth to a place where they will be ignored and forgotten–thus, passing the responsibility to an institution that has been sued for numerous civil and human rights violations.  This is an unacceptable response to addressing the problems with OJJ.”

“Study after study has shown that incarceration has devastating, 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 for ACLU of Louisiana. “Transferring these children to an adult prison will only cause more pain and suffering, and deprive them of the services, programming, and other tools they need for healthy growth, education, and development. We should be helping kids to grow into productive adults, not harming them further.”

“The juvenile justice system is supposed to be about rehabilitation and creating opportunities for future success to override past missteps,” said Tammie Gregg, deputy director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “We must show our youth a vision for their lives and future that is rich with promise and hope. Placing children in a notorious adult prison rife with the history of slavery and racial disparity instead paints a portrait of deep despair, failure and limitation–certainly not the positive and achievable outcomes we hope for their future.”

The New Orleans Tribune

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