Louisiana moves juveniles from adult penitentiary but continues to fight court order to do so
NEW ORLEANS — Juvenile detainees who were being held at a former death row building at Louisiana's adult penitentiary were transferred to a new facility in north Louisiana, state juvenile justice officials said Friday.
Friday was the deadline a federal judge had set for moving the youths from the prison at Angola in rural West Feliciana Parish. The state had won a temporary delay from a federal appeals court that was preparing to consider the case. The state said it would continue with its appeal, even while going ahead with the transfer.
The announcement from the Office of Juvenile Justice said the state found that a Jackson Parish juvenile facility that opened in July could accept the youths being held at Angola. They are to be housed there until work is completed on a new state facility in Monroe.
The number of youths involved in the transfer was not released.
Juvenile detainees and their advocates allege in a lawsuit that youths have been held in harmful conditions at the penitentiary. Although the juveniles have been segregated from adult prisoners since the temporary facility opened during the summer of 2022, they have suffered dangerous heat waves, extended confinement to their cells, foul water and inadequate schooling, according to the complaint.
Proponents have argued that the space is needed to house "high-risk" aggressive youths, many of whom have been involved in violent incidents at other detention facilities, and that locking them up at the adult prison keeps the community safe. Gov. John Bel Edwards had announced the transfer of youths to Angola after an escapee from a New Orleans area facility was accused in a carjacking and shooting before he was recaptured.
State officials have vehemently disagreed with plaintiff's claims, and some of U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick's findings, about conditions at the Angola facility.
"OJJ continues to disagree with the court's ruling, which we believe contained several findings about the conditions at the West Feliciana Center for Youth that are at odds with the facts," the statement said.
The transfer of youths to Angola was supposed to have been a short-term fix, with a goal of moving youths from Angola to a new secure facility in Monroe by spring 2023. However, the timeline has been pushed back to November.
AP reporter Sara Cline in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, contributed to this report.