After escape, youths being moved to Louisiana’s penitentiary

July 20, 2022 GMT

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Amid worsening problems at a south Louisiana juvenile detention facility — including a weekend escape that allegedly ended with a violent carjacking — Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Tuesday that some of the youths will be temporarily moved to the state penitentiary at Angola.

Edwards said at a news conference that about half of the 50 or so juveniles at Bridge City Center for Youth will be housed in coming weeks at a “secure, independent housing unit” at the penitentiary at Angola which once served as a reception center.

The governor said the youths “will not, under any circumstances, have contact with adult inmates.” Simultaneously, construction crews will begin renovating a section of the Jetson Center for Youth in Baker. Once that work is complete, the juveniles relocated to Angola will be transferred there, he added.

“What happened this past weekend at Bridge City was completely unacceptable. The escape, the theft, the shooting, all of it,” Edwards said. “It puts the youth, the staff and the surrounding community at risk. That’s why we are taking additional action there.”

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On Sunday, around 2:30 a.m., six juveniles broke out of the facility after allegedly overpowering a guard — locking them in a closet — and jumping over the fence, Jefferson Parish Council member Deano Bonano, whose district includes the Bridge City Center, told The Times-Picayune ′ The New Orleans Advocate.

Five of the escapees were captured after a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s deputy spotted them in a stolen vehicle, authorities said.

Authorities said the last escapee remained at large until around 5 p.m. Sunday. The New Orleans Police Department told The Times-Picayune ′ The New Orleans Advocate that they are investigating an armed carjacking allegedly involving that escapee and another suspect, which resulted in a 59-year-old man being shot and his vehicle stolen. The man was taken to the hospital in critical condition.

An “initial review” of the escape showed “numerous deficiencies and failures,” Edwards said. That included “a violation of the approved plan of action for the additional security.” Three Office of Juvenile Justice officials have been put on administrative leave.

This was at least the fourth escape this year from the facility. In June five juveniles escaped through a hole they cut in a bathroom ceiling. Additionally in June, there was a riot in which 20 juveniles took over parts of the complex.

“With all that we know and all that has happened, it is clear to me that we cannot continue to operate Bridge City as we have,” Edwards said on Tuesday. “But it is also obvious, given the number of juveniles in our system and the available space, that closing Bridge City is not currently an option.”

Officials have long acknowledged the issues of the youth facility, which was not designed to house certain high-risk inmates. Earlier this year, State Police and the Department of Public Safety and Corrections began providing additional personnel to assist with staffing shortages.

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Edwards said the short-term solution is to house some of the youths at Angola — in a building which was recently used to house female inmates who had been displaced after the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women flooded in 2016.

“Only the most troubled youth will be moved to the state penitentiary,” said Bill Sommers, deputy secretary of the Office of Juvenile Justice.

Edwards added that “more permanent and longer term solutions are being developed” including construction of new juvenile housing at the Swanson Center for Youth in Monroe, which the governor expects to be operational by Spring 2023.