Last week, Louisiana finally agreed to transfer youth detainees from the state’s largest maximum-security adult prison —only to move them to another adult facility.
After attempting an appeal to Chief Judge Shelly Dick’s order to release 15 boys incarcerated at Louisiana State Penitentiary, the state moved the youth to the Jackson Parish Jail—a detention center for adults but also with a youth division.
Both the Office of Juvenile Justice and a spokesperson for Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards have maintained that the location is a “juvenile facility” but it also houses as many as 400 adult prisoners.
However, in an interview with The Daily Beast, Jackson Parish Sheriff Andy Brown vowed the detainees would have no contact whatsoever with adults held at the facility.
“As long as they’re out of sight, sound, and touch, it’s within the guidelines. So, they don’t have any communication with the adult population,” Brown said. “Their rec yard and where they’re being housed was designed to where that would not take place.”
On Sept. 8, Dick ordered the state by Sept. 15 to move youth detainees, mostly Black boys, from the state prison, which is commonly referred to as “Angola” and a former plantation for enslaved Black laborers.
The boys had been held at Angola for 10 months, including being placed in former death row cells, subjected to solitary confinement, exposure to excessive heat, and with a lack of education and mental health resources.
“The Court finds that the conditions of confinement of the youth incarcerated at Angola constitute cruel and unusual punishment, and the punitive atmosphere and systemic programming failures violate the Fourteenth Amendment,” Dick said in the written order.
But the state appealed the judge’s decision on Sept. 13, according to Verite News, claiming that the kids needed to be detained there for security and safety concerns.
“This stay order will allow [the Office of Juvenile Justice] to continue to consider the options available to the state to ensure the safety of staff, community members, and youth in our care,” Office of Juvenile Justice Deputy Secretary Otha “Curtis” Nelson told the outlet in an email.
The Office of Juvenile Justice issued in a press release on Sept. 15 that all youth detainees at Angola had been transferred to “a new juvenile justice facility.”
The office said the detention center would temporarily house the transfers from Angola until the Swanson Correctional Facility has been updated to accommodate more residents.
“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 press release read. “The West Feliciana Center for Youth (Angola) was a necessary, but temporary solution to address serious security issues at OJJ facilities across the state that threatened the safety of staff, community members, and youth in our care. The youth who were temporarily housed there received targeted rehabilitative services and care from hardworking OJJ staff, who took extraordinary measures to ensure the facility could successfully serve the youth.”
Brown, who said he had not visited Angola in some time and was not certain of the conditions the youth may have experienced, told The Daily Beast that he hopes the transfers at Jackson Parish Jail will not be there “very long.”
“[The state is] making some arrangements right now to do some different things,” Brown said. “Maybe by the end of the year, [Swanson] will be up and the work will be finished and [the youth detainees] will be there.”
The facility where the youth are being held at Jackson Parish Jail was designed to be a juvenile center, Brown said, but has never been utilized.
“That was the purpose in its design and the location of it,” he said. “We really haven’t been using it until now.”
Until the move to a solely juvenile detention center, Brown said he will have educators and mental health care specialists evaluate the kids, place them in a large dormitory-style room where they can be housed together, and will provide a variety of recreational activities of their choosing.
“I’ve talked to every one of the kids, and we’re trying to adapt to some of their needs right now,” Brown said. “We can treat them as fair and as good as anyone else can, and we’re going to do that. But it’s short-term.”
Brown added that he was initially reluctant to take the youth transfers. But he ensured he would give them their rehabilitation experience, even promising that if they were still at his facility after the new year that they wouldn’t want to be transferred to another.
“We don’t have any desire to create an injustice for anybody. I’m going to give them what we’re required to give them,” Brown said. “No one wants to be in jail.”