Teenagers smashed doors and shattered glass during a fight at a Los Angeles juvenile detention center

By James Finn
the lawyer

BATON ROUGE, La. — Eight teenage detainees at a Baton Rouge youth prison escaped from their cells last week, sparking a two-hour melee that resulted in smashed doors and windows and left staff unable to Restore order until Baton Rouge police arrive, according to documents related to the case.

The new details paint a darker picture of the latest heckling at the aging East Baton Rouge juvenile detention center than an account initially provided by officials. At the time, officials only said that three teenagers suffered non-life-threatening injuries in a fight, but did not describe young inmates who escaped from their cell for a period. prolonged.

The parish town classifies any incident at the facility that does not result in serious injury or escape, including the one on March 25, as “non-critical.”

Baton Rouge police responded to a 911 call from downtown around 9 p.m. that Friday, according to records obtained by The Advocate. When BRPD officers arrived, however, a supervisor said no help was needed and staff had the situation under control, records show. So the officers left.

But later the police were sent back to the facility when a second call came in saying the youth quarters were destroying the windows and doors of their accommodation. Upon their return, BRPD officers found that eight youths had escaped from their cells in the uproar, smashing windows and doors, and staff unable to restore order.

In an initial statement, city parish spokesman Mark Armstrong described the scene as a “fight between youths.”

After arriving for the second time, the police entered the detention center and finally restored calm. Three of the eight teenagers were taken to hospital with injuries inflicted in the scuffle, officials said, although none of the injuries were deemed life-threatening.

Armstrong said some of the teens will face new charges as a result of the incident. Those include an allegation of second-degree assault by one of the wards, East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III said.

The violent blast is the latest in a series of cases where incarcerated teenagers have taken over staff at the 70-year-old youth detention center, part of the sprawling city-parish juvenile justice complex in a secluded area near the Baton Rouge airport.

In July, two teenagers escaped from the center and went on the run for nearly two days. Three months later, the facility was again breached when five teenagers overpowered a staff member guarding a dormitory, stole his keys and attacked two other guards, resulting in the hospitalization of one of the youths as the youths were escaping.

In February, three boys issued ‘verbal threats’ to staff and ripped out ceiling tiles during a two-hour rowdiness.

Armstrong said after each incident that the facility meets state standards for youth detention centers. He added on Friday that the parish-town takes any incidents of behavior at the jail “very seriously.”

But the district attorney has repeatedly said not enough is being done to protect staff and young people, calling on the parish town to rebuild the aging facility.

East Baton Rouge administrative director Darryl Gissel told The Advocate on Friday that the parish town had contracted with an outside company to see how much it would cost — and how much space it would take — to rebuild not only the youth detention center, but also the East Baton Rouge Parish Jail. The two complexes are located approximately one mile apart on Veterans Memorial Boulevard.

The company, JFA Institute, is a nonprofit organization that, according to its website, “works in partnership with federal, state, and local government agencies and philanthropic foundations to assess criminal justice practices and design policy solutions based on on research”. Gissel said the study is nearly complete, but many details about the potential reconstruction are still unclear.

Blaming the center’s recent struggles on Louisiana’s “raising the age” law, a rule enacted in 2019 that sent more 17- and 18-year-olds to youth facilities rather than adult prisons, Gissel acknowledged that the building is no longer equipped to house the population it incarcerates today.

The facility was not designed to accommodate older youth charged with violent crimes, Gissel said. And, he added, efforts to pour money into cosmetic repairs to the building — costs to the parish-city administrator pegged at $500,000 in recent years — can’t do much.

“It’s about trying to change the landscape of a facility designed for an age group that it no longer serves,” he explained.

Passed by the Louisiana Legislature in 2016, the “raise the age” law in some cases gave political impetus to the overhaul of prisons for aging youths, as actors in the criminal justice world feared the growing hardship of the law. In the parish of Avoyelles, for example, a stalled plan to open a youth prison – which planned to focus more on rehabilitation than punishment – ​​finally came to fruition in 2018.

The law came into effect at a time when the state’s youth justice system had suffered crippling budget cuts and was reeling from a wave of jailbreaks.

On Friday, Moore called the JFA study a “good sign,” but pointed out that talk of rebuilding the East Baton Rouge youth prison — and the local jail — has been circulating for years.

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(c)2022 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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