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On Tuesday, July 18 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Louisiana along with several other organizations have filed an emergency lawsuit against the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola.
Joining the ACLU Louisiana is the ACLU National Prison Project, the Caliborne Firm and Fair Fight Initiative, the Southern poverty law Center and attorneys Chris Murell and David Shanies. New court filings assert that children, notably almost all Black, are being placed in routine solitary confinement for 72 hours after being detained.
According to the new emergency filing in the ongoing Alex A. v. Edwards lawsuit, children at Angola describe being placed in solitary confinement for 72 consecutive hours upon arrival, being locked in their cells for over 23 hours for punishment and being handcuffed and shackled as punishment when they are allowed out for showers and recreation.
“Solitary confinement is even worse for children than it is for adults, and even short periods of solitary can do irreparable harm,” said Tammie Gregg, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project. “Children in the juvenile system are legally required to receive rehabilitation, education, and treatment. But in Angola, for almost a year, the state has subjected children to punishment and abuse, depriving them of their rights and further harming already traumatized young people.”
Angola is a maximum-security prison for adults and is the largest in the country. It served as a former slave plantation that was converted to a prison during the Civil War. On July 19, 2022, Governor John Bel Edwards announced those in the Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) would be moving to Angola. These juveniles are involved in delinquency proceedings who haven't been convicted of crimes and have never been incarcerated in an adult prison.
The new emergency filing also cites evidence of extreme heat in the individual cells where children are confined, which do not have windows or air conditioning. The filing asks the court to order the state to remove kids from Angola, place them in youth-appropriate non-punitive settings and to bar the state from placing children in adult carceral facilities.
Previous declarations state that the children have reported solitary confinement used as a form of group punishment, being deprived of their right to an education including failure to provide accommodation to children with disabilities, limited visits with family and loved ones and being maced or pepper sprayed by the guards.
“The state’s treatment of kids in Angola has been a series of broken promises,” said David Utter, lead counsel and executive director of the Fair Fight Initiative. “The state promised the Angola facility would close in the spring. The state promised the kids wouldn’t be held in solitary. The state promised the kids would receive their education and treatment. None of this has come to pass. We are asking the judge to take urgent action to put an end to this unprecedented mistreatment.”
Last week, the OJJ deputy secretary told the ACLU the state might close the Angola facility by October or mid-November depending on construction schedules. He also stated that children are being temporarily held in local adult jails until placement at youth facilities is found.
“Despite OJJ’s stated policy of rehabilitation over punishment, the state continues to hold youth in oppressive conditions that can only be characterized as punitive," said senior staff attorney at Southern Poverty Law Center Susan Meyers. "This inhumane practice must end now. Instead of locking kids up — away from their families, teachers, and peers — the state should focus its resources on programs that nurture and give all children an opportunity to succeed.”
Meredith G. White is the arts and culture reporter for the Shreveport Times. You can find her on Facebook as Meredith G. White, on Instagram and Twitter as @meredithgwhite, and email her at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Shreveport Times: ACLU Louisiana lawsuit says kids placed in solitary in adult prison