Governor orders some Bridge City youth inmates temporarily transferred to Angola
BATON ROUGE, La. (WVUE) - About half of the juvenile inmates at the troubled Bridge City Center for Youth will be transferred within the next month to a special wing being prepared at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday (July 19).
Sending the juveniles to the state’s most notorious adult prison is a temporary solution, Edwards said. The transferred youth will be kept apart from adult inmates at Angola and then moved again to be housed at a segregated portion of the state women’s prison at Jetson, once that facility has a new fence, surveillance cameras and air conditioning installed.
“I understand this is not a perfect or ideal plan,” Edwards said. “Permanent, long-term solutions also are being developed.”
Edwards made the announcement in response to last weekend’s escape of six juvenile inmates, the fifth known breakout from the Bridge City facility since November. One of those escapees -- identified by a law enforcement source as 17-year-old Kendell Myles -- is accused of critically wounding a man shot during a carjacking attempt in Uptown New Orleans about 14 hours after the escape.
Fed up with the frequent jailbreaks, Bridge City residents and Jefferson Parish leaders have called for the facility to be shut down completely and immediately. The shooting of the carjacking victim on Sunday was, to many, the last straw.
“It was bound to happen ... and it did happen,” said Sen. Patrick Connick (R-Marrero).
But Edwards said Tuesday that closing Bridge City now is not an option.
Bill Sommers, deputy secretary of the Office of Juvenile Justice that oversees the state’s youth detention centers, hinted that new security protocols put in place after the previous escape in June, were not followed last weekend. For that, Sommers took responsibility, but he and Edwards said high-ranking OJJ supervisors would now be kept on-site at Bridge City until the inmate transfers are made.
“This is an urgent situation and needs a serious and urgent response,” Sommers said. “We’ve come up with what we think is the best plan at this time. ... How would I rate my performance? Not very good. (But) when you put a plan in place, you’re only as good as the people who work for you.”
The OJJ will maintain supervisory control over the transferred juvenile inmates even when they are housed at Angola and Jetson, and continue providing their services such as education and counseling, Sommers said.
“This is a temporary arrangement with OJJ, to make these facilities safer for the youth, for the community and for the staff,” said Jimmy LeBlanc, secretary of corrections for the state’s adult Department of Corrections facilities. “These youth will not interact with our inmates at all.”
The number of youth to be transferred and the date they will be moved was uncertain. Edwards said if the plan was being executed today, it would have sent 25 of Bridge City’s most violent young offenders to Angola, while 24 others -- described as mostly sex offenders -- would remain at Bridge City where they are said to be making rehabilitative progress in a counseling program.
Some people who live in the Bridge City area are reluctant to leave loved ones home alone.
“We know they’re young teenagers, but they’re dangerous. And her being a woman, I respect that and I don’t want nothing to happen to her,” resident Hardy Frazier said of his wife.
Jefferson Parish president Cynthia Lee Sheng joined other elected officials calling for the shutdown of the Bridge City Center for Youth.
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, said Bridge City has a litany of problems, going back to its original design.
“This is a barracks setting -- with no cells -- and there’s dorm rooms,” Goyeneche said. “What you’re starting to see is more and more inmates are part of an escape plan. This most recent one, six inmates broke out at the facility. They overpowered a guard, locked the guard in the bathroom and made their escape.”
“They need someone just like they have at jail -- guards, someone that can control those guys back there,” said Larry Brock, a 50-year resident of Bridge City. “Not what they have now. The younger people today are getting more aggressive.”
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