BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – The first day of hearings regarding youth being held at Angola prison and whether they should stay there took place on Tuesday, August 15.
The hearing, which was scheduled after an emergency filing by the American Civil Liberties Union, is set to continue through Friday, Aug. 18.
Since last year, around 80 kids have been inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary, known as Angola. The youth are held in Angola until proper placement is found. Currently, the youth, as young as 15 are being housed in a one-two bedroom dormitory in the Death Row facility.
US District Judge Shelly Dick scheduled a hearing and motion after a recent lawsuit was filed. The lawsuit says children as young as 15, mostly Black boys, were held inside the building with no air conditioning surpassing 100 degrees inside the cells.
Corey Levee said, “These children, locked up in Angola, will believe if this is not corrected, that they are done for life.”
According to the lead counsel, David Utter, they have reports from inside the prison to help prove their point.
“We got some documents and we’re showing that they are keeping kids locked up for extraordinarily long periods of time,” said Utter.
According to the ACLU and its emergency filing, children are being placed in solitary confinement, locked in their cells for over 23 hours for punishment, and kept in spaces with extreme heat.
The youth were transferred temporarily from the Bridge City Youth Juvenile Center to Angola last year. According to the advocates, the youth were supposed to be taken out in the spring and put into a new facility.
Around a dozen advocates and leaders gathered out of the courthouse to express their thoughts after the first hearing.
“As predicted, the state’s unprecedented decision to hold children in abusive conditions inside Angola’s former death row building has resulted in almost a year of devastating effects,” said Nora Ahmed, legal director at ACLU of Louisiana. “Kids have been held in solitary confinement, deprived of education services and family connections, and subjected to harsh living conditions. We should be helping children grow, not exposing them to unnecessary danger and irreversible harm. The state must take immediate action to remove kids from Angola and end the practice of holding children in adult facilities”
Another advocate who took to the stand, was Rio Veldez, 18, from New Orleans. Those who are in Angola are ages 10 to 21, making Valdez realize he could have been inside if he didn’t get the necessary resources to help him in life.
“I’m not ok, because every day I have to walk in fear of an unjust system that is targeting youth for incarceration,” says Veldez.
Inside the courtroom, three witnesses were called to the stand, a teacher, correctional officer, and the director of the West Feliciana Detention Center. Attorneys asked those on the stand if the children have ever interacted with adults in Angola.
The director of the ACLU, Alanah Odoms, says many children reported forms of punishment including being placed into confinement, deprived of education, limited visits with family and even being maced by guards.
“We know that children display behaviors of aggression and display behaviors of trauma when in fact trauma has been inflicted and displayed toward children,” said Odom.
Many of the advocates called for action for federal and state leaders.
“Traumatizing our children is not the answer, Governor John Bel Edwards,” said Bishop Serdni Autrey of Shreveport.
According to the lead counsel, Utter says day two will include experts explaining what high temperatures mentally and physically do at a young age.
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