Lawsuit seeks to block move of underaged convicts to Angola

Staff Report

Area officials voiced opposition over a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union filed to block the transfer of underage offenders from Bridge City Center for Youth to the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.

The state’s plan “would follow a chain of systematic failures caused by adults within the state Office of Juvenile Justice,” the ACLU said news release issued Aug. 19.

“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.” 

The lawsuit has put on hold the plan Gov. John Bel Edwards announced in July that would send underage offenders from the Bridge City Center for Youth near New Orleans to an isolated facility away adult offenders on the grounds of Angola State Penitentiary.

District Attorney Tony Clayton, who has been outspoken about on prosecution of juvenile offenders, said he supports the decision by Gov. Edwards.

District Attorney Antonio M. “Tony” Clayton

“The governor has directed the move to Angola, and he has a plan in place where they will be isolated from the other prisoners,” said Clayton, whose district covers Iberville, West Baton Rouge and Pointe Coupee parishes. “They chose their lot in life, and they’ve proven that it’s virtually impossible to house them, so Angola seems to be the appropriate place to house them at this time in their life. As long as they’re separated from the rest of the inmates, I’ll support the governor.”

The lack of space in juvenile facilities leaves no alternative, Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi said.

Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi

“We don’t have the adequate space for them to go, and the most violent ones need to be in a facility like Angola,” he said. “They’re not going be in contact with the adult inmates, so as long as we don’t have a place for them, we should do this temporarily.”

Nora Ahmed, legal director of the ACLU of Louisiana, believes the move to Angola will have adverse effects.

“Study after study has shown that incarceration has devastating, lifelong effects on young people — cutting them off from their families, disrupting their education, and exposing them to further trauma and violence,” she said. “Transferring these children to an adult prison will only cause more pain and suffering, and deprive them of the services, programming, and other tools they need for healthy growth, education, and development. We should be helping kids to grow into productive adults, not harming them further.”

The lawsuit was filed in the federal court for the Middle District of Louisiana. A hearing date is pending.