Timeline still unclear for transferring violent Bridge City juvenile inmates to Angola

Published: Aug. 9, 2022 at 10:39 PM CDT
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BRIDGE CITY, La. (WVUE) - Weeks after Gov. John Bel Edwards announced a plan to transfer violent juvenile inmates from the Bridge City Center for Youth to a temporary facility being readied at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, officials said only two offenders so far have been relocated to different facilities around the state.

After repeated breakouts and a riot this year at the Bridge City Detention Center, the facility’s most violent offenders were supposed to be moved by mid-August. The Office of Juvenile Justice said about half of Bridge City’s offender population would first be moved to a temporary facility at Angola, where they would remain segregated from the prison’s adult population in a former welcome center building 1.5 miles away, until more permanent accommodations could be built.

But, OJJ director Bill Sommers said that Angola building is not yet refurbished and ready to intake the youth population.

A spokesperson for the governor’s office could not provide a timeline for the relocation but said OJJ is “working diligently every day on the transition, and as the plans are finalized, more details about the timeline will be released.

“No youth will be moved until staffing is in place, along with the other necessary programs and services.”

While some Bridge City residents and local officials want the plan to move faster and have even called for the Jefferson Parish facility to be closed entirely, opponents of the decision are concerned, saying no youth should be housed at Angola.

“It seems like it was an announcement without a plan,” said Aaron Clark-Rizzio, executive director of the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, the juvenile public defenders office of Orleans Parish.

“We have not been shown any information for how it would be feasible to set up a new youth prison anywhere, let alone in Angola, in a way that would be appropriate or meet even the most basic standards.”

Clark-Rizzio said he wonders how OJJ will provide educational programming and mental health care, which he says already are lacking at current OJJ facilities.

“We know that the problems at OJJ right now come from policy, staffing and culture,” he said. “When you see those problems, you know they can occur in any type of facility.”

But Jefferson Parish officials and neighboring residents are fed up with the frequent escapes from Bridge City, especially after one last month led to a man allegedly being carjacked and shot by an escapee in Uptown New Orleans. They are upset the facility remains open, comparing it to a ticking time bomb until the next escape.

“We keep just getting empty promise after empty promise from the state, and we just got no confidence in them,” said Jefferson Parish Councilman Deano Bonano. “We haven’t even gotten any information. Even though we ask where are we at, nobody responds.

“We’ve always said it’s not if but when somebody’s going to get hurt. And as you saw with the last escape, they carjacked and shot somebody. We’re just so fearful this is going to happen again. The state needs to act.”

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