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FROM: The Associated Press

Teen inmate testifies of beatings at Tallulah prison



4/14/03 12:02 PM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- A former inmate at Louisiana's Tallulah youth prison

testified Monday that he was regularly beaten by other prisoners and had

his jaw broken by inmates who wanted to force him to have sex.


The 17-year-old former inmate testified at a hearing into allegations of

violence at the juvenile prison. A lawyer representing him prompted him

to recount several incidents in which other inmates attacked him.


"I got jumped," by three inmates on Aug. 28, 2002, his first day at the

prison, he said. Less than a month later, five inmates punched and

kicked him, breaking his jaw in two places while guards watched but did

nothing, he said.


The inmate said he was transferred to Tallulah, the state's

high-security youth prison, because he was accused of fighting too much

at his previous prison. He had been convicted of second-degree

kidnapping and two counts of armed robbery, he said.


The testimony opened a hearing before Juvenile Court Judge Mark Doherty,

who has said conditions in the prison are unconstitutional. The hearing

follows Doherty's ruling that five teen inmates must be removed from

Tallulah because rampant violence puts their lives at risk.


Tallulah critics hope the hearing will force the state to shut the

prison down.


"The evidence is going to show that there's still way too much violence

at Tallulah, that there's all sorts of corruption and it's the

antithesis of what a juvenile facility should be," said David Utter,

head of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana and the attorney for

several of the former inmates.


The state has consistently denied allegations of violence. Richard

Stalder, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and

Corrections, has said problems at Tallulah have been fixed. Stalder's

department has drastically cut the prison's population and instituted

reforms to reduce violence and improve educational and medical

facilities, he told a state legislative panel in February.


But the prison -- in rural, poverty-stricken northeast Louisiana -- has

had problems since it first opened as a privately run facility.


The three men who won the state contract to operate the prison had no

experience in juvenile prisons, but all had close ties to then-Gov.

Edwin Edwards. Edwards is now serving a 10-year sentence in federal

prison in Texas after his conviction on unrelated extortion charges.


The state was forced to take control of the prison in 1999, after

several private firms ran Tallulah and several lawsuits were filed

against the state, all alleging an epidemic of violence. A series of

U.S. Justice Department reports also detailed violence among inmates and

beatings of inmates at the hands of guards.


Corrections officials say the state has been addressing the need for

reforms under a 2000 settlement with the Justice Department, which has

not complained about the pace of progress at the prison.


Doherty ordered a 17-year-old prisoner released from Tallulah in 2001

after the teen testified that one guard restrained him while another

guard punched him, breaking the teen's jaw.


Last November, Doherty ordered that all five teens he had sentenced to

Tallulah be transferred because conditions there violate Louisiana's

Children's Code, the state's law book for the treatment of minor

offenders. The code demands treatment for minor inmates on a par with

the treatment they should receive from their parents.


Tallulah is a place where "the expression of hostile feelings

constitute(s) the normal tone of interactions between guards and youth,"

Doherty wrote in the 2002 ruling. "Sadly, the closest a youth may come

to relief from the threat of violence may be in solitary confinement,

which leaves its own mark on emotional health."


Doherty is the only Louisiana juvenile court judge who has ordered

inmates transferred because of poor prison conditions.


Monday's hearing follows an order from the state Supreme Court, which

instructed Doherty to investigate his own allegations.


The youths involved in Monday's hearing were sentenced to terms at

Tallulah for offenses including parole violations, assault and theft.


In interviews Sunday, mothers who had visited their children at Tallulah

recalled their sons telling of routine fights among inmates. The women

said the room where they visited their children was full of other teens

with bruises and cuts.


"They had bandages on their faces, their arms, everywhere," said one

woman, who asked that her name be withheld to protect the identity of

her 17-year-old son, one of the teens involved in the hearing.



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