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Louisiana Sued Over Youth Prisons

November 6, 1998

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) _ The Justice Department is suing the state of Louisiana over conditions at its four youth prisons, alleged to be places where young inmates have little protection from abusive guards and slim hopes of getting good medical care.

The state’s youngest prisoners are being held in solitary confinement, have poor medical and mental health care and get little educational help to prepare them for life outside of prison, the government contends in a lawsuit filed Thursday.

The young prisoners face unreasonable risks of violence from other inmates and staff, according to the lawsuit, which follows a two-year investigation and seeks to force the state to improve what are considered some of the nation’s worst juvenile prisons.

The Justice Department will keep working toward a settlement with the state Corrections Department, said Bill Lann Lee, acting assistant attorney general for civil rights.

``At this moment, however, it is clear that federal court action is the only way to protect juveniles in Louisiana’s secure correctional facilities from unlawful conditions,″ he said.

The state’s four juvenile prisons hold 1,750 young offenders.

Lee said the state has failed to heed repeated admonitions from federal authorities to improve conditions.

State officials have said the problems are overstated, but they insist improvements have been made under the guidance of federal judge Frank Polozola, who was assigned oversight of the juvenile prisons.

But philosophical differences have prevented agreements on some issues including guard-to-inmate ratios, said Cheney Joseph, executive counsel to Gov. Mike Foster.

A key focus of the investigation has been the privately run, 620-bed Tallulah Correctional Center for Youth, which was hit over the summer with allegations of savage abuse and inhumane conditions.

The state also is being sued by 12 inmates who allege that guards at the youth prisons routinely punched, kicked, slapped, shoved or sprayed them with chemical disabling agents. Some inmates allege they were forced to have sex with female guards.

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