BATON ROUGE, La. — Today, a federal judge has ordered Louisiana officials to stop housing children in the former death row of Louisiana State Penitentiary, known as Angola, and to remove them from the location by Sept. 15.
The ruling, which Chief Judge Shelly Dick delivered from the bench, comes after a seven-day hearing in August, in which lawyers for the children and their families put on evidence that the children are routinely held in solitary confinement, deprived of their right to an education, treatment and other rehabilitative services, and have been held in inhumane conditions.
Judge Dick found the conditions of confinement at Angola constitute cruel and unusual punishment, and the punitive atmosphere and systemic programming failures violate the 14th Amendment and violate federal law protecting children with disabilities.
She found the state broke every promise it made last year, during a previous court hearing in September 2022, that it would not punish children. The judge found the state:
- Locked children up in cells for days at a time as a form of punishment;
- Punished children with the use of handcuffs, mace, and denial of family visits;
- Failed to provide adequate staffing – including no licensed social worker or professional counselor;
- Failed to provide appropriate education and special education, where necessary; and
- Failed to provide necessary and appropriate mental health treatment or appropriate social services
The judge delivered the order verbally today. A written order will come later.
David Utter, lead counsel, issued the following statement on behalf of the litigation team:
“For almost 10 months, children — nearly all Black boys — have been held in abusive conditions of confinement at the former death row of Angola – the nation’s largest adult maximum security prison. We are grateful to our clients and their families for their bravery in speaking out and standing up against this cruelty.
“Now, it is time for Louisiana’s leaders to provide the appropriate care and support so all children can thrive and reach their full potential. We demand investment in our children, not punishment. State officials must address the long-standing, systemic failures in Louisiana’s juvenile justice system. A state where all our children — Black, Brown, and white — have equal access to opportunity is possible.”
The lawsuit is being brought by the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, the ACLU of Louisiana, the Claiborne Firm and Fair Fight Initiative, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and attorneys Chris Murell and David Shanies.