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Louisiana should remove incarcerated youth from Angola immediately, federal official says

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Louisiana should remove incarcerated youth from Angola immediately, federal official says

Nov 16, 2022 | 3:27 pm ET
By Julie O'Donoghue
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Federal official: Louisiana should remove incarcerated youth from Angola immediately
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A federal official who oversees juvenile justice programs told Louisiana officials that incarcerated youth should be removed from Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola immediately. (Photo by Jarvis DeBerry)

A juvenile justice program administrator for the federal government told Louisiana officials Wednesday that incarcerated youth should be removed immediately from the campus of Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

“Let me be clear on this point: Children do not belong in adult courts and certainly not in adult prisons and jails,” Liz Ryan, administrator of the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, said at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge.

“We recommend that children be immediately removed from Angola,” she said during a speech before the Louisiana Juvenile Justice Reform Act Implementation Commission. 

In July, Ryan’s agency reached out to Gov. John Bel Edwards to express “grave concern” over his plan to house young people at Angola, the largest maximum security prison in the country. 

“We offered the Office of Juvenile Justice direct support to help identify more appropriate placement options,” she said. “Moving youth to this maximum-security prison complex constitutes a major reversal for juvenile justice.”

In spite of the admonition, the Edwards administration went forward with the transfer of eight young people to a building on Angola’s campus in October. As of Wednesday, seven young people remained there, and one had been moved to another facility. 

State officials have insisted that the incarcerated youth held there will be kept separate from the adult prison population. They also explained the move was necessary to maintain order in other juvenile justice facilities.

The three largest facilities for incarcerated youth in Louisiana have struggled with escapes, property destruction, riots and attacks on staff. Edwards announced the move of young people to Angola immediately following a high-profile incident in which a group of young people broke out of the Bridge City Center for Youth in Jefferson Parish, injuring staff and members of the public in the process. 

“We had to make moves out of Bridge City,” said Jay Dardenne, Edwards’ top administrator, who attended Wednesday’s juvenile justice meeting.

Ryan believes relocating youth to Angola could have long-term negative consequences. Juveniles in the correctional system can be between age 11 and 21, and she said holding them at an adult prison puts them at risk for abuse.

Incarcerated youth in adult facilities are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted and 36 times more likely to commit suicide than those in juvenile facilities, Ryan said. Young people in adult prisons and jails are far more likely to be kept in solitary confinement, which leads to psychological, physical and developmental harm.

“Harsher punishment for justice-involved youth may, in fact, endanger safety,” she said. 

Despite Ryan’s criticism of the Edwards administration, there’s no indication the federal government might pull funding or other punish Louisiana for moving youth to Angola. The state receives approximately $4 million for juvenile justice programming from Ryan’s agency alone.