CAMPAIGN NEWS: PRESS RELEASES

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                           
Contact: David Utter
504.522.5437, ext. 227

December 18, 2001                                                            

 

Judge Declares Tallulah Facility Violated Child's Rights

 

Violent conditions at the infamous Swanson Correctional Center for Youth-Madison Parish in Tallulah, Louisiana ("Tallulah") violated the constitutional and statutory rights of a youth incarcerated there.  Judge Mark Doherty in the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court issued an opinion yesterday finding that S.D.'s constitutional and statutory rights were violated at Tallulah, as he was repeatedly subject to physical and emotional abuse as well as denied adequate rehabilitation services.

 

SD is a 17 year-old Orleans Parish youth who, after being adjudicated delinquent on non-violent offenses, was sentenced to three years in the custody of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections, Office of Youth Development ("DPS&C").  In early February of 2001 - even though he had a suffered extensive physical and emotional abuse prior to his being declared delinquent by Judge Doherty S.D. was transferred to Tallulah, Louisiana's most notorious juvenile facility.  While incarcerated at Tallulah, his jaw was broken by a guard.

 

The Court's opinion, issued after four days of testimony and the review of nearly 200 pages of Tallulah and DPS&C documents, specifically found:

 

 

David Utter, counsel for S.D., director of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, and long time observer of the conditions at Tallulah, stated: "Two things are clear" as a result of Judge Doherty's opinion: "First, Tallulah needs to be shut down and the youth incarcerated there moved to safety.  Second, Governor Foster needs to carefully examine the leadership at the DPS&C.  Louisiana settled its lawsuit with the federal government over a year ago, promising to spend millions of dollars to make Tallulah safe.  Clearly, that has not happened and the question is why?"

 

Utter noted that the history of Tallulah is rife with abuse and corruption.  Originally a private, for-profit facility, Tallulah is owned by three men with ties to former Governor and recent federal convict Edwin Edwards.  Two days before S.D. had his jaw broken by guards, legislative auditor Dan Kyle reported that the 3 men have made $8,741,249 in salaries and dividends from the facility since it opened in 1994.  On November 16, 1994, Tallulah accepted its first youth.  See Williams v. McKeithen, No. 71-98-B (M.D. La. 1971) (Nov. 15, 1994 letter from DPS&C Secretary Richard Stalder to Judge Polozola covering consent decree for the A.Z. Correctional Center for Youth, announcing the DPS&C would place youth there the next day).  Before Christmas of that year, Judge Polozola declared that a "State of Emergency exists at the A.Z. Young Center for Youth," due to riots and an inability of staff to control and protect youth.  Id., Order dated Dec. 22, 1994.  On December 29, 1994, the DPS&C assumed "operational authority" of the facility.  Secretary Stalder assured the federal court that DPS&C will "maintain operational authority on an interim basis until a permanent replacement management team is selected, trained by our on-site executive staff, and determined capable by me to continue what we now believe to be a stable and rapidly improving program at the facility."  See id. (Jan. 3, 1995 letter from Secretary Stalder to Judge Polozola).

 

"The facility should never have been opened," Utter said.  "It has been a dangerous and violent facility since it accepted its first youth and the current DPS&C administration has never been held accountable for its failures.  This Court's ruling is a clear message to Louisiana's policy makers that it is time for a change."  A notoriously unstable facility, Tallulah has had no less than four operators - the private, for-profits GRW Corporation, Trans-American Development Corp., and Correctional Services Corporation, and the State and at least ten wardens since it opened in 1994.  See The Advocate, Feb. 3, 2001, p.4B (DPS&C officials estimate that there have been 10 wardens at Tallulah in the 6 1/2 years of operation).  It has been cited by both Human Rights Watch and the United States Department of Justice as being an unsafe facility for youth.  In July, 1998 a New York Times article described Tallulah as "so rife with brutality, cronyism and neglect that many legal experts say it is the worst in the nation." 

 

On February 2, 2001, DPS&C Secretary Stalder testified before the Senate's Judiciary B subcommittee that Tallulah costs the state's taxpayers $25 million a year.  "This is a monumental waste of money," according to Utter.  "The state could better spend the money on alternatives based in the youth's communities, both protecting public safety and preserving our scarce tax dollars."

 

Founded in 1998 under the sponsorship of the Southern Poverty Law Center, JJPL is a non-profit law office dedicated to improving the juvenile justice system in Louisiana and instilling hope in the children caught up in that system by building on the strengths of young people, families and communities.  Current national foundation support is provided by the Soros Foundation - Open Society Institute and the Public Welfare Foundation.  For more information and the complete opinion, please contact David Utter at 504.522.5437 or dutter@jjpl.org.

 

 

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