Parents, advocates file lawsuit after detained youth are transferred to adult prison ahead of Hurricane Ida

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FILE: Generic jail/prison corridor (Photo credit: Getty)

NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — On Tuesday, officials with the Loyola Law Clinic of Loyola University announced a lawsuit filed against the City of New Orleans for its reportedly illegal evacuation of incarcerated youth during Hurricane Ida.

The lawsuit was publicized via Facebook, when the Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC), the plantiff in the case, announced the case through a live video.

Attorneys report Louisiana law prohibits youth from being housed at adult jail and lock-up facilities, or in the custody of the Department of Public Safety & Corrections. Instead, they are only to be detained in facilities licensed for juveniles.

According to the lawsuit, youth housed at the Juvenile Justice Intervention Center (JJIC) in New Orleans were transferred 70 miles northwest to Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Garbriel — an adult prison monitored by the DPSC.

While in the prison, youth detainees (many of whom were in pre-trial phases of their cases) reported “horrendous” conditions, including excessive heat, lack of access to basic hygiene, nearly inedible food and long periods of isolation. They also had visual contact with adult prisoners.

FFLIC says the teenagers were detained in the prison for five days, leading to unnecessary harm and trauma. Several members of the organization, who are parents of the youth involved in the case, report having no contact with their children and only learned of their location when they returned to the city.

In a statement announcing the lawsuit, FFLIC Executive Director Gina Womack compared this case to a situation that occured during Hurricane Katrina, when detained youth were transferred to the Orleans Parish Prison ahead of the storm. Womack commented on the lawsuit, saying:

“City officials have had 16 years to come up with a better plan for keeping our children safe during a
hurricane. Instead, all they did was further traumatize the youth and their parents. Every other
juvenile detention center affected by Ida was able to evacuate their youth to a licensed juvenile
facility. We are still in hurricane season, and the city must create a new evacuation plan now.”

While FFLIC is asking the court to declare both the city’s evacuation protocol and DPSC partnership to be illegal, the organization is also demanding change to prevent similar situations from happening again.

Specifially, the suit seeks to prohibit the city from implementing a similar policy and instead, require a new policy that complies with the state constitution and the Children’s Code.

Hector Linares, the Loyola Law Clinic professor who filed the suit along with student practitioners, also commented on the case, saying:

“There is a reason the law requires youth to be held in licensed facilities and
forbids them from being placed in adult jails or in DPSC custody. It’s because it is not safe,
physically or emotionally, for youth to be held in adult prisons.”

“In the end, it was illegal for these
children to be taken to an adult prison like Hunt regardless of what the conditions there were.”

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