New Orleans Children & Youth Planning Board “Heartbroken” By Court Ruling Allowing Youth Incarceration at Angola

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The New Orleans Children & Youth Planning Board issued a statement denouncing a federal court ruling allowing Gov. John Bel Edwards’ plan to house currently incarcerated youth at Angola – one of the largest maximum security prisons in the country – to move forward.

“We are heartbroken to hear that young Louisianans will be relocated to the State Penitentiary at Angola, a site synonymous with violence, sexual assault, and human rights violation,” the CYPB said in their statement. “Our young people are the solution to our state’s challenges, not the problem. When we treat them as if they are problems that need to be locked away and hidden from sight, we guarantee worse outcomes for our state as a whole.”

Civil rights attorneys had sued Louisiana in an effort to block the plan championed by the Edwards administration and other state leaders. Over the past two months, a building designed to hold adult death row inmates has been converted into a secure center for incarcerated youth. The building is more than a mile away from where adult inmates at the prison are housed, but critics of the plan say that keeping adult prisoners far enough away from the children that they cannot see or hear each other will be difficult at a facility with more than 4,000 incarcerated adults.

“The Court is mindful that the specter of the prison surroundings alone will likely cause psychological trauma and harm,” Dick wrote in her ruling. However, she said that must be balanced against other concerns. “Other youth have been victimized by the high-risk youth when they try to go to sleep at night, and they have reported to [Juvenile Justice administrator Curtis Nelson] that they are afraid to go to sleep at night for fear of being attacked by these high-risk youth.”

In order to maintain the required “sight and sound” separation, the Office of Juvenile Justice plans to wrap the perimeter fence around the building with a solid fabric to keep incarcerated adults and youth from being able to see each other. However – it’s not clear what that does to solve the sound issue. The judge stated that she is confident that this and other problem areas – namely impersonal visiting areas for family visits and the lack of appropriate recreational facilities – will be addressed.

“While locking children in cells at night at Angola is untenable, the threat of harm these youngsters present to themselves, and others, is intolerable,” US District Court Judge Shelly Dick said in her ruling. “The untenable must yield to the intolerable.” Dick also acknowledged that while the move will be distressing for both the children and their parents, she considers safety to be the primary concern.

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