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FROM: Times Picayune

Hearings on juvenile jails challenged
Times Picayune
By Laura Maggi

Corrections agency asks judge for block

Saturday May 17, 2003

BATON ROUGE -- Attorneys for the state Department of Corrections urged a federal judge Friday to put a halt to a number of juvenile court hearings instigated by an advocacy group challenging the conditions at two of Louisiana's juvenile prisons.

Richard Curry, a private lawyer who represents the department, asked U.S. District Court Judge James Brady to put a stop to an ongoing case in Orleans Parish Juvenile Court about the treatment of four juveniles at the Tallulah prison in northeast Louisiana.

He also requested that Brady block 17 emergency motions filed in juvenile courts across the state by the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, which is asking judges to release some offenders from the Bridge City Correctional Center for Youth, citing the recent death of inmate Emmanuel Narcisse. Narcisse, a 17-year-old from Marrero, was killed at the institution this month during an altercation with a guard.

Although juvenile courts have the authority to decide whether a youthful offender should be removed from Louisiana's secure facilities, Curry said the nature of the proceedings and the motions filed have been to attack the general conditions at the state's four juvenile prisons, not to investigate particular cases.

The conditions and services at the prisons are covered in an almost 3-year-old legal settlement with the Juvenile Justice Project and the federal government, which forced the corrections department to make sweeping improvements in medical care, education and staff training. Because of this settlement, only Brady has authority on the overarching issues of how juveniles are treated at the prisons, Curry said.

Lawyers with the Juvenile Justice Project "are relitigating this case again," he said.

But David Utter, executive director of the Juvenile Justice Project, said the juvenile court proceedings are about the fate of specific incarcerated youths. In the Orleans Parish hearing about Tallulah, this has included a good deal of testimony about instances of offenders being attacked by other inmates or guards, he said.

Utter described the state's request to stop the state juvenile court proceedings as an "incredible remedy."

Keith Nordyke, a Baton Rouge lawyer who also represents the young offenders, said the conditions at the prisons are considerations for both federal and state juvenile courts.

The difference is the kind of actions the two courts can take. A federal judge can require comprehensive changes, while only a juvenile judge has the authority to remove a particular youth from secure care if those conditions are unacceptable, Nordyke said.

Brady gave both sides until next week to file more written comments before he makes his decision.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge praised Corrections Secretary Richard Stalder, who was sitting in the courtroom, and Utter for coming to an agreement on pending legislation to overhaul the state's juvenile justice system. At a House committee meeting earlier this week, lawmakers approved a bill, touted as a compromise, that includes a provision to eventually close the Tallulah prison as a juvenile facility and use the operating money to pay for more community-based programs.

"That's where the solutions to all these problems lie," Brady said of the overall legislation.

Times Picayune



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