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FROM: Associated Press

Orleans judge orders inmates removed from Tallulah

The Associated Press
11/12/02 5:48 PM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- A judge who has found conditions at Tallulah juvenile prison dangerous enough to violate the state constitution ordered the removal Tuesday of all inmates sent there from his court.

Mark Doherty, an Orleans Parish Juvenile Court judge, wrote that he had "grave concerns for the physical and mental health" of prisoners at Tallulah. All inmates sentenced to terms at Tallulah from his court must be transferred to different facilities within 30 days, Doherty ruled.

The state Department of Corrections will be fined $100 per day for each of those youths who has not been transferred by Dec. 12, Doherty's ruling said.

It was unclear, however, whether Doherty had authority to issue the order. Richard Stalder, secretary of the state Department of Corrections, said state law gives his agency "sole authority over treatment, placement, care" of juveniles sent to prison in Louisiana.

Stalder said his office would review the ruling, but added that Tallulah is the state's only juvenile prison with maximum security facilities.

"We have no other option available" for juveniles who require maximum security, Stalder said.

"Tallulah has come a long way, and currently meets a legitimate need in our department," he said.

It was unclear what drove Doherty to issue the ruling on Tuesday. In December 2001, Doherty ordered the release of a 17-year-old Tallulah prisoner, writing that one guard held the inmate and another guard broke the youth's jaw. Doherty reduced the youth's sentence, allowing his release, because of the threat of violence from guards.

Stalder has said three separate investigations have found no evidence the guards caused the youth's injuries.

Tallulah, known officially as the Swanson Correctional Center for Youth, has been repeatedly cited for violence since it opened in 1994. A number of U.S. Justice Department reports found that guards commonly beat prisoners.

The state took over management of the prison in 1999 because of allegations that private ownership had allowed poor conditions, abuse and inadequate educational, medical and mental health services.

Doherty stated in Tuesday's ruling that he was acting under obligation of the Louisiana Children's Code, which orders juvenile courts to "safeguard the physical and mental health of the youth." Juvenile judges are obligated to "monitor the conditions of confinement and rehabilitative treatment" of youths in Department of Corrections facilities, Doherty wrote.

Critics of Tallulah praised Doherty's ruling. David Utter, director of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, said the Corrections Department has abrogated its legal duty to provide proper treatment for its juvenile prisoners.

Doherty "is simply following his duty to make sure that the kids under his jurisdiction are not mistreated," Utter said.

Utter said the Legislature assumed that incarcerated juveniles would be treated properly when it drafted the law giving the Corrections Department sole authority over their placement.



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