YOUTH NOT PROVIDED ACCESS TO COUNSEL
JJPL and FFLIC Sue OJJ to Ensure the Protection of Youths’ Constitutional Rights
NEW ORLEANS – - The Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL) and Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC) filed a lawsuit in United States District Court for the Eastern District Of Louisiana yesterday against the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) citing a lack of access to legal counsel when youth suffer constitutional violations while in OJJ custody. Hundreds of youth per year are placed in OJJ’s custody and the conditions inside OJJ’s facilities are deplorable. When these youth attempt to contact an attorney to protect their rights, they unfortunately have no options. OJJ has failed to provide youth in their custody with their constitutionally required access to courts by failing to provide adequate access to legal counsels. During the last 18 months, the conditions inside OJJ facilities, Bridge City Center for Youth, Swanson Center for Youth, and Jetson Center for Youth, have been violent and inhumane. Parish Sheriff Officers are called to these facilities at an alarming rate because of the violence that occurs inside of these facilities. Youth inside these facilities are routinely victims of violence but have no access to legal advocates to assist them in addressing these brutal conditions.
“One of the most valued constitutional protections is for persons to have access to the court system regardless of their status in state custody. Youth are being beaten and neglected and they have no access to notify parents or legal advocates of the deplorable nature of these conditions,” says John Williams, an attorney with JJPL. “The conditions, poor management, and poor supervision have been well documented recently and our youth deserve the chance to vindicate their rights after they are violated by the State.” A report released by JJPL and FFLIC only weeks ago, What’s Really Up Doc?, outlines the deplorable conditions inside of the facilities, the poor management of OJJ, and the negative impact of the continuing budget cuts. The report also outlines the failures of the current LAMOD reforms being done by OJJ and how Louisiana’s children should be receiving rehabilitation but are in fact receiving punitive treatment.
“We believe that our children deserve an opportunity to be successful but while in OJJ custody, our children suffer in silence and are not provided with the opportunities Louisiana law says they deserve,” said Ernest Johnson, parent and member of FFLIC. “As our youth suffer inside these facilities, at a minimum they should have the chance to contact counsel to advise them of their rights while away from their family and community.”