In 2022, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards responded to issues plaguing a juvenile detention facility in the state by announcing that 25 children would be relocated to the Louisiana State Penitentiary, which is more commonly known as Angola, on a temporary basis. The announcement drew widespread condemnation from civil rights advocacy groups because some of the children were as young as 12 and Angola is one of the most feared penal institutions in the United States.
The governor’s plan was challenged by a class-action lawsuit that claimed it violated rights guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. The judge assigned to the case approved the plan even though she conceded that it would cause the children unreasonable psychological harm. The judge made her ruling even after learning that children housed in places like Angola are more likely to take their own lives or be the victim of a sexual assault. She also heard that juveniles detained in harsh adult facilities are less likely to be rehabilitated and more likely to reoffend. Despite all of this evidence, the judge approved the plan because she felt it served society’s best interests.
Children were rarely placed in adult prisons before a wave of violent crime in the late 1980s and early 1990s led to young offenders being labeled “super predators.” This view still persists despite evidence showing that less than 10% of the juveniles taken into custody each year are arrested for committing a violent crime. This skewed view has led to a great imbalance in public spending. In Louisiana, approximately $11,000 is spent each year to educate a child in the state. Each child detained by the criminal justice system for committing a juvenile crime costs taxpayers about $100,000.
A better solution is needed
Society must be protected from violent criminals even when they are children, but placing juveniles in prisons like Angola does far more harm than good. The goal of the criminal justice system should be to rehabilitate offenders whenever possible, and this is especially true when the offender has not even reached adulthood. Placing children in adult prisons offers politicians a quick and easy fix to problems in juvenile facilities, but a better solution that truly serves the needs of society is needed.