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Prison conditions attacked:
Judge hears stories of inmate beatings



NEW ORLEANS -- The state's juvenile prison at Tallulah came under fire Monday inside and outside the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court.

A former Tallulah inmate testified during a hearing before Judge Mark Doherty that fellow inmates who wanted to have sex with him beat him up twice last year, bloodying his nose in August and breaking his jaw in September.

"I don't think anybody should be at Tallulah," said the 17-year-old New Orleans boy, referred to as C.S. "It's not safe."

The boy's grandmother and others echoed his testimony during a lunchtime rally -- sponsored by Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children, and the Justice for Youth Campaign -- in front of the juvenile courthouse.

"Tallulah was an awful place for my grandson and should be shut down," Willeta Collins said. "My grandson needed mental-health treatment, but instead he got locked up in Tallulah, where he got his jaw broke while guards watched. That place is no place for any kid."

Demonstrators carried signs that read "Tallulah: Guilty of crimes against children," "Close Tallulah: Educate, don't incarcerate," and "Communities not Cages."

Doherty is trying to determine whether conditions at Tallulah, officially called the Swanson Correctional Center for Youth -- Madison Parish Unit, meet constitutional standards.

In December 2001, the judge freed a 17-year-old Tallulah inmate whose jaw was broken by a guard seven months earlier, saying the prison is plagued by a "culture of violence."

In November, Doherty ordered several inmates from his court moved from Tallulah to other state lockups, citing "grave concerns" for their physical and mental health. The judge's ruling was based on a hearing set for August and September 2001.

In December, the state Supreme Court ordered Doherty to hold a new hearing on whether conditions at Tallulah remain violent and abusive. The hearing, which began Monday, will continue through Thursday and resume the week of April 28.

C.S., who was committed to the state Department of Public Safety and Correction in May because of armed robbery and second-degree kidnapping convictions, testified that fights and vulgarity are commonplace at Tallulah.

C.S. told one of his attorneys, Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana legal Director Sarah Ottinger, that he didn't feel safe at Tallulah "at all."

"There ain't no such thing as protection," he testified, adding that some of the guards fear the inmates. "Some of the youth are bigger than the guards."

Under questioning by Holly Hammett, an attorney for the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections, C.S. admitted he is no stranger to trouble. He was suspended from the Orleans Parish public school system 30 times and expelled four times, she said.

"Is fighting a new thing for you, something you learned at Tallulah?" Hammett asked C.S.

"No ma'am," he said, acknowledging he was moved from a Baton Rouge juvenile prison to Tallulah in late August for fighting.

"Did you learn that vulgar language at Tallulah?" Hammett asked further.

"No ma'am," C.S. again replied.

C.S. told Ottinger there are good and bad guards at Tallulah, and that one guard -- a lieutenant -- punched him in the jaw for arguing with a female sergeant. C.S. said he did not report the incident because "I didn't want him to beat me up."

C.S., who said he has observed guards giving cigarettes to inmates, also testified he saw inmates with marijuana.

C.S. and several other juveniles were removed from Tallulah in mid-December. The state agreed to move them without conceding to Doherty's ruling or admitting any wrongdoing on the part of the prison system.

Louisiana took control of the Tallulah facility from a private company in September 1999 after a number of abuses were reported, including beatings and a failure to provide proper health care.

The state also runs juvenile prisons in Baton Rouge, Bridge City and Monroe. again



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