A judge has ordered state corrections officials to remove two youths from a troubled detention center in Jefferson Parish, declaring conditions at the Bridge City Center for Youth to be “unsafe.”
Judge Mark Doherty, of Orleans Parish Juvenile Court, told the state Office of Juvenile Justice to transfer the boys to another detention center because of chronic understaffing at Bridge City and “the inability of the facility to provide adequate supervision of the youth in its custody.”
Doherty has jurisdiction over only two youths at Bridge City, but he made clear he does not consider the setting suitable for any juvenile offenders.
His three-page order could invite a flurry of legal actions by defense attorneys around the state who have expressed similar concerns about the mounting violence at the lockup.
Guards have been outnumbered and overmatched in recent weeks by inmates who on multiple occasions have kicked down the doors of their dormitories and even climbed onto the roof of the detention center.
On April 19, “the youth had free run of the campus for almost five-and-a-half hours before BCCY personnel were able to restore a semblance of order and get the youth off the roof and back into their dorms,” Doherty wrote.
Staff “are routinely unable to maintain” control “over youth who are fighting or running around the campus, having broken free from their assigned dorms,” he wrote.
The judge said at least 10 fights have broken out at Bridge City this month, including one in which a handcuffed 16-year-old was attacked by more than a half-dozen other inmates as staff escorted him to receive treatment for injuries he had received in a separate scuffle. That 16-year-old was one of the two teens Doherty ordered removed from the facility.
“The facility struggles to maintain or restore order, thereby endangering the youth,” Doherty wrote.
The judge’s ruling followed two hearings this month — including one Thursday — that opened a window into the worsening conditions at the Bridge City lockup, which has been the site of one scandal after another in recent years.
Last year, two directors of the facility were ousted by the Office of Juvenile Justice; a group of teens overpowered a guard and took his keys, allowing two youths to escape from the facility; and a female guard was caught having sex with a 17-year-old male inmate in the detention center’s laundry room.
A former guard who resigned from Bridge City recently said in an interview that the facility is “infested with contraband” and should be closed down due to a number of public safety hazards.
The former guard, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said a youth struck another youth in the head with a fire extinguisher in December. Weeks later, he said, a female guard was sexually assaulted by a youth but was “told she could not press charges” because of the potential negative publicity.
“Many of the youths’ lives are in danger,” the former guard said. “Many staff are afraid of the youth, so they allow them to do what they want.”
In his ruling, Doherty cited a lack of security cameras in classrooms at Bridge City, where fights break out regularly.
He said the Office of Juvenile Justice appears to have a policy of treating violent incidents as administrative rule violations, often “despite serious injuries,” and rarely alerts the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office to potential crimes being committed at the lockup.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.