Federal judge to inspect Louisiana prison housing juvenile detainees amid unconstitutional conditions concerns


A federal judge scheduled a Thursday visit to the Louisiana State Penitentiary to inspect a former death row building where juvenile detainees are being held in conditions that civil rights advocates say are unconstitutional — including dangerous heat and inadequate health care.

U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick of Baton Rouge scheduled the visit in a morning order, days after attorneys working with the American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion asking that she end juvenile incarceration at the remote prison farm in southeast Louisiana’s Angola community.

The state began holding juveniles at the facility last year amid capacity and safety concerns at state juvenile detention facilities. The move was seen as a last-ditch effort after authorities said an escapee from one New Orleans area juvenile lockup was suspected in a shooting that happened before he was recaptured.

Opponents of the move quickly filed a lawsuit. Dick initially refused to end the practice. In an order last September she acknowledged the possible harm of holding juveniles at the adult prison but said state officials had shown they could provide shelter and treatment that would comply with the U.S. Constitution.

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Security gate at the Louisiana State Penitentiary

Vehicles enter the main security gate at the Louisiana State Penitentiary — Angola Prison, the largest high-security prison in the country in Angola, Louisiana, on Aug. 5, 2008. (AP Photo/Judi Bottoni, File)

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The move was supposed to be temporary, but juvenile detention at the prison continued past a spring target date. Officials now say it will be late November before the youths can be moved out. About 15 were housed there as of earlier this month.

Juvenile advocates said in a court filing this week that the state failed to provide constitutionally acceptable conditions at the facility in the remote Angola community in southeast Louisiana. The state has declined comment but was expected to address the accusations in court filings ahead of a scheduled Aug. 15 hearing.

The document noted the youths — mostly Black male youths, according to the lawsuit — were held in a building that was not air conditioned. It cited weather data indicating outside heat-index values at the prison regularly surpassed 100 degrees Fahrenheit and sometimes 130 degrees F.

Promised education and mental health treatment were not provided, and the young prisoners often were held alone in cells in what amounted to psychologically harmful solitary confinement, advocates said.



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