01/23/2003

Louisiana Agrees to Upgrade Juvenile Facilities Under Lawsuit Settlement

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Louisiana has agreed to improve conditions at its four juvenile detention facilities under a recent lawsuit settlement agreement. The New Orleans-based Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL) and Southern Poverty Law Center attorneys negotiated with the state and the U.S. Department of Justice to reach the new agreement, which went into effect January 17. It is an extension of one entered in 2000 that was close to expiration.

The state agreed to enhance its efforts to reduce violence and improve medical and mental health services at its correctional facilities in Baton Rouge, Monroe, Tallulah and Bridge City. The agreement also extends oversight of the state's operations of juvenile facilities and requires the state to bring in experts for advice on facility improvements.

"The settlement is groundbreaking for Louisiana because for the first time, it has agreed to engage national experts to help fix the deep problems in the facilities," said David Utter, JJPL executive director. "In large part because of the advocacy done by JJPL and the Center, the state was forced to recognize that it couldn't do it on its own."

The Center's involvement in the settlement negotiations is part of its ongoing commitment to juvenile justice issues and to the JJPL, which it helped establish in 1998 and currently helps support.

Inadequate legal representation, abysmal conditions in juvenile detention facilities and lack of alternatives to incarceration have all made Louisiana's juvenile justice system one of the worst in the nation. In addition to its involvement with the state's settlement agreement, JJPL uses various forms of advocacy to improve public policy and encourage public debate on Louisiana's juvenile justice issues.