Protestors demonstrate against Gov. Edwards’ plan to move youth inmates from Bridge City to Angola

Published: Jul. 21, 2022 at 10:13 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Demonstrators gathered outside the Bridge City Youth Detention Facility late Thursday to protest against Gov. John Bel Edwards’ plan to move about half of the youth inmates to Angola.

The Governor’s move came after repeated breakouts at the facility, but opponents said they have legal concerns with that decision.

“It’s not evidence based. It’s not treatment based,” said Gina Womack, Executive Director of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children. “It’s not what the juvenile system was set up to do.”

As part of Edwards’ plan, a special wing will be created at Angola to house the youth separately from the adult prisoners.

The Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) will maintain supervisory control over the transferred juvenile inmates even when they are housed at Angola and Jetson, and continue providing their services such as education and counseling, said Bill Sommers, deputy secretary of the OJJ.

But opponents are concerned.

“It’s a huge step backwards for our youth justice reform efforts here in Louisiana over the past couple decades,” said Hector Linares, a clinical professor at Loyola University’s College of Law. “There’s a federal law called the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act that requires complete sight and sound separation for any youth that are held in facilities that are co-located with adults.”

Linares said sight and sound separation requires that youth inmates don’t see or hear from adult inmates, something he said is very difficult, or even impossible at a facility like Angola.

“I don’t think it’s possible to make sure that that never happens,” Womack said. “I know that they’re saying that they’re going to try and do some things, but we haven’t seen a sufficient report of how that’s going to happen. It’s just not what the juvenile system is supposed to do.”

Another concern revolves around the inmates’ education, especially inmates with special needs who Linares said make up a substantial portion of youth incarcerated in Louisiana’s criminal justice system.

Educating special needs youth requires an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

“Angola’s so isolated and remote that, I know they have trouble staffing things for the adults there all the time, where are they going to find the certified special education teachers, the therapists, the related service providers?” Linares asked.

There’s no word on how long the inmates will be housed at Angola, but Governor Edwards called the move temporary. The transfers will happen within the next month.

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