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New SPLC Report Exposes Dangerous Juvenile Justice System in Louisiana

Report underscores need for urgent reforms and calls for the complete banning of incarcerating youth in adult prisons

NEW ORLEANS — Today, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released a staggering report on the state of one of the most punitive youth justice systems in the country. The report comes nearly a year after Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that dozens of incarcerated youth would be held at Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola. Yesterday, the SPLC joined the ACLU and other advocates in filing an emergency motion in the ongoing Alex A v. Edwards lawsuit to order the state to remove children from the facility.

The report, Only Young Once: The Urgent Need for Reform of Louisiana’s Youth Justice System exposes how the state’s system, which disproportionately impacts Black youth, prioritizes punishment over rehabilitation, leading hundreds of young people to be confined in dangerous facilities.

“The decision to hold youth at Angola, one of the nation’s most notoriously abusive prisons, built on a former slave plantation, illustrates far too well the current approach of Louisiana’s youth justice system,” said Delvin Davis, senior policy analyst with SPLC. “The refusal of Louisiana to see them as children plays an outsized role in their being criminalized and pushed out of our education system and into the criminal justice system. Dehumanizing Black children sets the stage for inhumane actions like incarcerating them in a dangerous adult prison.”

Counter to the rhetoric often used by state legislators in support of harsh policies, youth arrest rates have declined by 67% in Louisiana from 2000 to 2020. Despite that decline, youth — especially Black youth — in the state have increasingly been pushed out of schools, leaving Louisiana with some of the highest suspension and expulsion rates in the country. Black youth are also overrepresented in a youth justice system that is over-reliant on incarceration, ripe with abuse, and is incredibly expensive compared to less punitive alternatives.

To address these horrific disparities, the SPLC recommends the state of Louisiana should: 

  • Raise the minimum age of juvenile incarceration and prosecution in the state.  
  • Make nonviolent offenses, especially technical violations, status offenses and nonviolent drug offenses, non-jailable for juveniles.   
  • Invest in community-based alternatives to youth incarceration that prioritize rehabilitation.   
  • Completely ban the practice of incarcerating youth in adult facilities like Angola.

The full report can be found HERE.