BATON ROUGE — New court filings reveal for the first time that children — almost all Black boys — are being placed in routine solitary confinement for 72 hours when they are detained in the former death row building of the nation’s largest adult maximum security prison — Louisiana State Penitentiary, known as Angola.

According to a new emergency filing in the ongoing Alex A v. Edwards lawsuit, children at Angola describe:

  • Being placed in solitary confinement for 72 consecutive hours when they arrive — only being released from their cells for a few minutes to shower; 
  • Being locked in their cells at times for over 23 hours for punishment, only let out to shower in handcuffs and shackles; and 
  • Being handcuffed and shackled as punishment when they are occasionally allowed to go outside for recreation time.

The new filing also cites evidence of extreme heat in the individual cells where children are confined, which do not have windows or air conditioning. The heat index in Angola, Louisiana, has been over 88 degrees every day since May 21 — a temperature which poses a serious risk of harm to people, according to an expert on the effects of heat.

The filing asks the court to order the state to remove kids from Angola and place them in youth-appropriate non-punitive settings, and bar the state from placing children in adult carceral facilities.

“Solitary confinement is even worse for children than it is for adults, and even short periods of solitary can do irreparable harm,” said Tammie Gregg, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project. “Children in the juvenile system are legally required to receive rehabilitation, education, and treatment. But in Angola, for almost a year, the state has subjected children to punishment and abuse, depriving them of their rights and further harming already traumatized young people.”

Since October 2022 when the state transferred the first group of children to Angola, the state estimates they’ve sent between 70-80 children there — the vast majority Black boys — for 4-8 week periods. Some children have had multiple placements.

In previous declarations, children in Angola have reported solitary confinement used as a form of group punishment, being deprived of their right to an education — including failure to provide accommodations for children with disabilities, limited visits with family and loved ones, and being maced or pepper sprayed by guards.

In a September 2022 court hearing, the state’s Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) officials swore that the Angola unit was only temporary and testified that it would be offline by the spring of 2023. Spring came and went and OJJ continues to send children to Angola in the sweltering Louisiana summer.

Last week, the OJJ deputy secretary said the state might close the Angola facility by October or mid-November, depending on construction schedules. He also stated that children are being temporarily held in local adult jails until placement at youth facilities are found.

“The state’s treatment of kids in Angola has been a series of broken promises,” said David Utter, lead counsel and executive director of the Fair Fight Initiative. “The state promised the Angola facility would close in the spring. The state promised the kids wouldn’t be held in solitary. The state promised the kids would receive their education and treatment. None of this has come to pass. We are asking the judge to take urgent action to put an end to this unprecedented mistreatment.”

The lawsuit is being brought by the ACLU 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.

Youth justice advocates — including Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children and the Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic & Center for Social Justice at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law — have condemned the decision to hold children in Angola and support the litigation challenge. 

The following quotes can be attributed as noted:

Nora Ahmed, legal director, ACLU of Louisiana 

“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. 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.” 

Susan Meyers, senior staff attorney, Southern Poverty Law Center 

“Despite OJJ’s stated policy of rehabilitation over punishment, the state continues to hold youth in oppressive conditions that can only be characterized as punitive. This inhumane practice must end now. Instead of locking kids up — away from their families, teachers, and peers — the state should focus its resources on programs that nurture and give all children an opportunity to succeed.”

The preliminary injunction motion can be found here: Doc 163-Motion for Preliminary Injuction.pdf

The memorandum in support of the preliminary injunction motion can be found here: Doc 164-2- Proposed Memorandum in Support of Motion for Preliminary Injuction.pdf

The declaration from children held in the Angola facility can be found here:

The expert declaration about the effect of solitary confinement on youth can be found here: Doc 164-8- Exhibit 5.pdf 

The expert declaration about the effect of extreme heat on youth can be found here: Doc 164-9- Exhibit 6.pdf