Following reports of violence against youth held in Angola, including guards hitting and macing incarcerated young people in addition to multiple-day lockdowns, Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC) Executive Director Gina Womack has issued a statement condemning the alleged mistreatment of juvenile inmates at the state’s largest and most dangerous adult prison.
“We are saddened that advocates’ predictions have come true and even sadder that the Governor and our state leaders did not heed our warnings,” Womack said. “The fact that Black children are being locked in cages on a former plantation for enslaved Africans is already an immeasurable offense, but to also learn that they are being held in solitary confinement without necessary services, education, or even recreation, is unconscionable. No child should ever be subjected to this kind of blatant racism and abuse.”
Last summer, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced his plan to send some juvenile offenders to Angola temporarily in the wake of breakouts and other incidents at the Bridge City Center for Youth. In the meantime, a series of improvements, including a new fence, surveillance cameras and installing air conditioning, were to be made at part of the state women’s prison at Jetson, so that the youth could be moved there.
Now, court documents filed earlier this month provide at least one juvenile inmate’s account of mistreatment at the hands guards at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.
According to the documents, the incarcerated 15-year-old is identified by the pseudonym Daniel D. And according to his statement:
“A boy struck a guard. The staff got him on the ground and were punching him,” Daniel said in the court record. “The staff started macing all of us. No one else had hit any of the guards but they were macing us all. The staff was hitting the first boy while he was on the ground being maced.”
Daniel’s written statement continues: “[After another violent incident], we did not get to leave our cells at all for those 3 or 4 days, except for to use showers. About 3 or 4 times our whole pod has been locked down and we are not able to leave our cells except to shower. They would keep us locked in the whole weekend.”
Last August, civil rights attorneys sued Louisiana and the state Department of Corrections to block plans to open a juvenile justice facility at Angola. While the state won the first leg of the legal battle, allowing for youth to be transferred to the site, advocates continue to fight to get the facility shut down.
Daniel and another boy, identified as Edward E., being held at the juvenile facility at Angola since it opened last fall, have asked to join the ongoing lawsuit.
Of course, The New Orleans Tribune commented, last summer after the plan was first announced, that moving youth to Angola or even Jetson was a bad idea that failed to address the real problems related to incarcerated youth in Louisiana, including better training, equipment and pay for guards and other employees at Bridge City facility, improving rehabilitation services for juvenile inmates and renovating and upgrading the actual facility to address security issues. Despite those concerns and others voiced by organizations like FFLIC, the plan to move the youth moved forward.
Womack’s statement continues, “We have said time and time again that nothing good can come from housing youth in Angola, but the Governor and the Office of Juvenile Justice have been determined to ignore what’s right and follow a path of harm and destruction instead. Not even a lawsuit brought by the children highlighting the costs to them and the state could deter them. Under their leadership, Louisiana has become even more of a shame to our nation – and this abuse has only added to our reputation as a failure in education and child wellbeing. We cannot stress enough the need to recommit to a complete transformation of our youth justice system. Prisons are harmful to our youth and to our communities. We need to downsize the youth prison population and close prisons by investing in prevention and rehabilitation. We must create equitable and life-affirming systems of support so that our youth and communities can thrive.”