WASHINGTON, D.C. – Several civil rights groups sent a letter today urging the U.S. Department of Education to investigate the state’s decision to move children to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola – the nation’s largest adult maximum-security prison facility with a long standing record of human rights violations.
The letter, signed by lawyers and policy advocates for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights (LCCR), ACLU National Prison Project, ACLU of Louisiana, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, and Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, describes how this unprecedented decision to place children in Angola has detrimentally impacted their mental health and will have dire consequences for their educational opportunities.
Two youths who are involved in a lawsuit challenging the state’s decision to transfer them to Angola said they have faced prolonged isolation in windowless, filthy jail cells. They also report having only one teacher who splits their time between two classrooms and provides the same work to all students regardless of grade level or ability. One student who has several disabilities and an Individualized Education Program (IEP) said they have not received any services or support required by their IEP while in OJJ custody.
In July 2022, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards announced that some children previously held at the Bridge City Center for Youth would be temporarily transferred to the vacant, former death row building at Angola to address the severe failings of the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) – the state agency responsible for the care of youth in the juvenile system. In anticipation of the transfer last year, the SPLC, LCCR and Loyola University sent a letter to several of the state agencies charged with providing education and rehabilitative services to detained youth requesting a detailed, written plan about how they will deliver education and rehabilitative services to youth housed at Angola.
“Many of the students entering into OJJ custody are already educationally disadvantaged and are more likely than their peers to have learning and behavioral disabilities that entitle them to special education reports and accommodations,” the groups said in the letter. “We are concerned that youth currently incarcerated in Angola Penitentiary are suffering serious academic regression and will lose the opportunity to learn core skills necessary for their employment and success as adults.”
OJJ has a history of not providing consistent educational programming at its youth facilities. Black youth are most impacted. They make up approximately 83% of youth in OJJ’s custody, despite comprising 31% of the state’s total population, due to policies and practices that disproportionately push Black students out of school and into the juvenile legal system. In the letter sent today, the groups asked the U.S. Department of Education to open a broader investigation into the system of education for all the state’s secure care facilities.
“Children do not forfeit their educational rights when they enter custody. Every student in Louisiana has the right to an education under state law, including the right to attend school through their 19th birthday,” the letter states.