Statement of OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan on Youth Placement in Louisiana State Prison, Angola
November 11, 2022
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is extremely concerned and disappointed by Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards’ decision to approve the transfer of children under the custody of the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) to the State Penitentiary at Angola. Upon learning of this potential move in July 2022, OJJDP leadership immediately reached out to both the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) and the Office of the Governor to express our alarm regarding this decision. We offered direct support to the state to assist them to immediately identify placement options for these youth that are more appropriate, evidence-based, and shown to enhance public safety.
While state officials initially seemed receptive to this offer of help, they continued to invest time and funding to prepare the site in Angola for the transfer of youth. They ultimately did not proceed with any of the recommendations offered, nor would they engage in a meaningful discussion with OJJDP about the larger juvenile justice system challenges and needs in the state. It is now evident that the state had no intention of considering other alternatives, but were instead determined to move these youth to Angola as a way of “getting rid” of what they see as the problem – a group of high risk youth with very complex needs.
OJJDP is also increasingly concerned about the demonization of these youth in the juvenile justice system. Some leaders in Louisiana have referred to them as “dangerous juvenile inmates” and “monsters,” and advocating for them to be locked up far away from their families and communities. The evidence is clear that this is a dangerous and uninformed perspective. Children – and these are children despite the derogatory terms being used to describe them – do not belong in adult courts, jails, and prisons. This principle has been validated by decades of research which has found that youth whose cases are prosecuted in adult criminal court are more likely to be rearrested and have higher recidivism rates than youth in the juvenile justice system. The U.S. Supreme Court has also acknowledged that adolescent brain development impacts culpability in cases such as Roper v. Simmons, Graham v. Florida, Miller v. Alabama, and J.D.B. v. North Carolina.
Sadly, moving youth to this maximum security prison complex demonstrates a major reversal for the field of juvenile justice, not only in Louisiana, but nationwide. OJJDP is also very alarmed by the institution’s notorious history which is deeply rooted in slavery and violence. In FY 2021, Louisiana’s OJJ received a competitive award from OJJDP under the Enhancing Juvenile Justice: Reform and Reinvestment program. This recent action has made OJJDP seriously question OJJ’s level of commitment to reform and improve their juvenile justice system.
While we are extremely disappointed in this decision, the assistance offered by OJJDP continues to be available and we urge the Governor and OJJ to engage with us in identifying long-term solutions that are grounded in best practices and demonstrated to work.