Louisiana Could Spend Up To $415,000 Defending Plan to House Youth at Angola in Court

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Gov. John Bel Edwards’ plan to house incarcerated teens at one of the largest maximum-security adult prisons in the country has already cost the state $550,000. Now, the state stands to pay up to an additional $415,000 defending that plan in court.

The Office of Juvenile Justice agreed last month to expand a $500,000 contract it signed with Butler Snow LLP in 2020 to represent the agency in legal battles stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. The expansion allows for an additional $415,000 to defend the relocation of teens from the Bridge City Youth Center to Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in federal court. Three teenagers filed suit against the Edwards administration in August, arguing that the move is detrimental to their mental health, and could interfere with special education services at least one of the teens is receiving.

Child welfare advocates have said that they are disappointed that the state is spending so much of the state’s money on defending this plan, instead of supporting community programs that could prevent children from being incarcerated in state custody in the first place.

“It’s just disappointing that the governor would rather spend this money on litigation than spend it on supporting these children and families,” said Aaron Clark-Rizzio, co-executive director for the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights.

Though the Edwards administration has argued that the move was necessary due to a lack of housing options for more violent youth – over the past two years incarcerated youth have destroyed property, attacked staff, and had a rash of escapes – attorneys for the teens disagree.

“There are no circumstances under which it would be safe, legal, or appropriate to house youth at a notorious adult penitentiary like Angola,” said 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.”

Much to the families’ dismay, so far, a federal judge has sided with the Edwards administration – though not enthusiastically.

“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 allowing the plan to move forward. “The untenable must yield to the intolerable.” Dick noted that although she was aware that the move would cause psychological trauma and harm to the teenagers moved to Angola, “other youth have been victimized by the high-risk youth when they try to go to sleep at night, and they have reported … that they are afraid to go to sleep at night for fear of being attacked by these high-risk youth.”

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