Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights official blasts plan to house youth at Angola

Staff Report

The state needs to scrap plans that would transfer juvenile offenders from the Bridge City facility to a site at Angola State Penitentiary, a leading state juvenile rights advocate said Monday.

The plan to imprison children in Angola is part of a pattern of doubling down on failed approaches, according to Aaron Clark-Rizzio, co-Executive Director of the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights and a public defender for the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office.

The Office of Juvenile Justice needs to consider a smaller, more humane system for addressing youth offenders, he said during an address to the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

LCCR is a legal services non-profit that supports young people in the criminal legal system through direct representation, and policy advocacy work.

Rizzio spoke amid the ongoing criticism by federal officials over the recommendation Gov. John Bel Edwards issued in July to move troubled juvenile offenders out of the facility in Bridge City.

The plan has drawn criticism from federal officials, who have deemed the plan “problematic.”

Aaron Clark-Rizzio

“The governor’s plan is to move to a facility in Angola that used to house inmates to die,” Rizzio said.

Most juvenile offenders are housed in those facilities for nonviolent crimes and probation violation.

State courts should not confine them to juvenile facilities for long sentences, he said.

“The whole purpose of the juvenile justice system is supposed to be rehabilitation,” Rizzio said. “Angola has long been a place we sent adults when we didn’t want them returned to our community.”

The inmate escapes and violence at Bridge City in Harahan sparked the transfer recommendation.

Rizzio said he believes other motives triggered the plan.

“We were told that the building itself was insufficient for that kind of justice, and Jefferson parish politicians were vocal about not having them housed in their parish,” he said. “Arrests in the OJJ facilities bois down to bad or misbehaved children being characterized as beyond rehab or not ready for rehab.”

Rizzio said the effect of the announcement “sent ripples of fear” among the juveniles and their families.

Staff inside the facilities had to assure those families they would not be removed from Bridge City this week, he said.

Proponents have “struggled” to answer questions about how they would operate a school on the grounds of Angola, a maximum facility prison, according to Rizzio.

“How are they going to do it in a building that doesn’t have a school room or desk?,” he said.

Rizzio fears that the transfer of juvenile offenders to Angola would lead staffers to threaten it even to non-threatening juvenile offenders.

“As part of this plan, not only would some young people be moved to Angola, but all of them would always hear about the possibility of being moved to Angola,” he said. “This is no environment for rehab … it’s have never made an argument on how it would be good for children – just how it helps adults.

“The good news is that we do not have to follow through with this plan,” Rizzio said. “We’re sending the message that they deserve support and that they’re capable of change.”

The escapes, theft and shooting put youth, staff and communities at risk, Edwards said.

The transfers to Angola will begin next month. They will include the most dangerous offenders, and they will be placed in an isolated facility, he said.

They will not have contact with adult inmates. The structure will be apart from the camps that house adult inmates. It is attached to the administration building The building is a secure independent housing unit in front of the prison, once used as a reception center.