At least two children who had been sentenced to youth prisons in Louisiana have been moved across state lines to a facility in Alabama without notification to their families or attorneys, according to the New Orleans Advocate.
The Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights issued a statement this week indicating that at least two children who were in the care of the Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) were transferred to the custody of Southeast Alabama Youth Services, Inc., a nonprofit organization.
“This unprecedented action by OJJ was done without notification to the children’s families or lawyers,” executive director Aaron Clark-Rizzio, told The Advocate. “The children’s lawyers and families have not heard from them since the move.”
“OJJ has given up on its responsibility to care for and rehabilitate the children in its care,” Clark-Rizzio added. “There is no reason to place children hundreds of miles away from their families, other than OJJ is simply unwilling or incapable of doing their taxpayer-funded job. This decision was not made with children or their rehabilitation in mind.”
The move comes after turmoil at some youth secure care facilities in the state. Last week at Bridge City Center for Youth, 20 juveniles took over some parts of the building, prompting a response from Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s deputies and a SWAT team to restore order. Additionally, Gov. John Bel Edwards ordered guards from nearby adult prisons and state troopers to help the staff at that facility and another in Monroe.
According to the Advocate, these officers are authorized to use weapons and procedures reserved for adult prison populations, including pepper spray, tasers and use-of-force techniques.
This is a decision that youth advocates say is likely to exacerbate the violence.
All of this comes as Louisiana — which has the highest incarceration rate per capita in the nation — is considering changes to its juvenile justice system, according to the Advocate. The state tried a more therapy-over-punishment approach in the 2000s, and a new bill would move to a tiered system that separates “high-risk” and “low-risk” youth. Yet, youth advocates and a state audit noted that the state never successfully executed the therapeutic model.
Sen. Heather Cloud, a Turkey Creek Republican who sponsored the new bill believes it will bring needed change and relief.
“The Office of Juvenile Justice will not improve until we make foundational changes to the system,” she said in a statement. “This will help improve safety in the facilities and help recruit new staff who are concerned for their safety.”
Gov. Edwards has not signed the bill.
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