Antoine Bowie waited in limbo. For days, the 16-year-old sat in what was supposed to be a short-term holding cell in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison's central booking area, the often busy and loud gateway into the jail.
Bowie, however, was not waiting to be checked in or waiting for his first court appearance; there was simply no other place for him at the parish's adult jail. The dorm to house him and other similarly situated juveniles is a more than a three-hour drive north.
So in order see his attorney, he spent days in a holding cell lined only with two wooden benches: no bed, no designated place to shower. He had to eat all his meals in the cell.
When Bowie was charged in November as an adult in an August armed robbery and shooting, he was also transferred from the East Baton Rouge Juvenile Detention Center to the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's custody.
That switch meant he would now await trial from the jail in East Carroll Parish, which began providing the juvenile housing for all Baton Rouge youth offenders since the local Sheriff's Office closed its juvenile wing early last year. It's a change local attorneys are fighting, backed by a rarely-used provision from the state's 2016 Raise the Age act, which aims to keep more youth from the adult criminal justice system.
"He's still a child," said Myleka Ennis, Bowie's mom. "He's not at a stable spot. … I'm afraid of something happening to him."
Niles Haymer, Bowie's attorney and other lawyers with juvenile clients recently asked judges to address the current detention setup for youth.
He says what's in place now is detrimental in terms of the child's access to fair legal representation as well as their emotional, mental and physical well-being. He filed to have Bowie transferred back to the local juvenile detention center, which Haymer argues is safer and more appropriate for children.
"You’re psychologically damaging these children, who are only accused of crimes," Haymer said.
In January, a state judge granted the first such request in Baton Rouge for a juvenile charged in adult court to await criminal proceedings from the juvenile detention center, a decision Bowie's family hopes will play out for him.
But some local leaders worry about how such a precedent could affect the juvenile detention center's capacity as well as its safety, as juveniles charged in adult court are accused of the most serious crimes, like murder, rape and armed robbery.
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Bowie's grandmother said people have to think of the children. She said her grandson, whom she helped raise, has called his "Mawmaw" crying, upset about what he's seen in jail, from both from the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison and the north Louisiana facility.
"Just because a child do something, that don't mean the child was a bad child," Yolanda Antoine, Bowie's grandmother, said, unable to hold back tears. "I’m worried about my baby’s mind.”
Back to juvenile custody?
The attorneys for Bowie and another juvenile offender, Malik Gray, filed two similar motions in the first week of February asking that the teens be transferred from the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's custody to the juvenile detention center while they await trial.
Gray is accused in the April slaying of Ricardo Alberto Agular, and was additionally charged with attempted second-degree murder and armed robbery. He recently turned 17 in December, but was 16 when he was arrested.
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"Under the custody and supervision of East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff, Bowie faces an increased risk of violence, an increased chance of sexual assault and a complete lack of access to education, counseling and social work needs," Haymer wrote in his motion.
Haymer said in his court filing that the East Carroll Parish jail, known as Riverbend Detention Center, has not served Bowie well and he doesn't belong there.
"Such an arrangement simply serves as a warehouse for juveniles accused of a crime with no chance for education, counseling services, pediatric care and other necessities that a child needs on a daily basis."
The juvenile detention center, on the other hand, does provide those services to children in their custody. The motions cite the 2016 change to state law, which updated the language about transferring a child charged in adult court to an adult detention facility from "shall order" to "may order."
“When (the article’s) amendment was passed by the Louisiana Legislature, it ensured that the physical custody of the juvenile does not necessarily change just because the juvenile is being prosecuted in criminal court," the motions say. “Current brain and psychological science supports (youth) being held at the Baton Rouge Juvenile Detention Center.”
Gray's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Harry Landry III, explained in his motion that a study found it takes about 200 hours of work for a defense attorney to prepare for a trial that carries a possible sentence of life, and juveniles deserve even more attention.
Landry said he has not even been able to spend two hours with Gray because his client has been housed primarily at the jail in Lake Providence — a seven-hour round-trip from Baton Rouge.
"The inadequate lack of time spent on this case by … The East Baton Rouge Office of the Public Defender has been caused solely by the housing and custody issues of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office," Landry wrote in his motion.
He said the River Bend Detention Center is also a problem, nothing that it is "over three hours away from Baton Rouge, making both family and attorney visits nearly impossible.”
Landry also wrote that when Gray has had to stay in the temporary housing at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, the conditions have violated the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), a federal law that sets out guidelines for jailing all inmates, including youthful inmates.
"When Mr. Gray and other juvenile defendants have been temporarily housed at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, he and others have been held in a cell in the prison central booking, Gray's attorney, Harry Landry, wrote in his motion.
He continued, "Mr. Gray was forced to sleep on a bench with no mattress and was never removed from the sight and sound of adult detainees within the prison, in direct violation of PREA."
Sheriff's spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks denied that any housing was in violation of federal law. She cited a provision of PREA that discusses how youthful inmates, outside of their housing units, can have adult inmates in their sight, sound or physical contact if there is direct supervision.
"Due to the limitations of the space, sound might be possible, but there is constant direct staff supervision," she wrote in an email.
Louisiana has raised the age of adult prosecution, so 17-year-old offenders won’t automatically be treated as adults within a few years.
Hicks explained that in May 2018, the Sheriff's Office closed its wing in Parish Prison dedicated to housing juveniles — those 17 and younger — because there was never enough juvenile offenders to fill the 40-person wing. According to online jail records, there were 25 juveniles in Sheriff's custody as of Friday, including Bowie and Gray.
Hearings on both Bowie's and Gray's motions are scheduled this week.
'Juveniles are different'
In mid-January, District Judge Lou Daniel granted the first such a request in Baton Rouge for a juvenile — 15-year-old Gregory Howard who was charged with murder in the August killing of Spencer Hebert — to be held in the juvenile detention center, instead of an adult facility, despite his criminal case being handled in adult court.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has already said on multiple occasions … juveniles are different and they need to be handled differently," said Kristen Richardson, Howard's attorney and an assistant public defender in Baton Rouge. "That’s something that’s really difficult to do when your client is three hours away; it requires a lot of time just sitting and talking.”
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Richardson said when she first was assigned to Howard's case, she didn't realize the current detention circumstances for juveniles charged as adults in Baton Rouge. But said since Howard has been sent back to a juvenile-specific facility, she said, his circumstances have improved.
“He, from what I can tell, is doing really well, has access to services," Richardson said.
She said that's in contrast to what he was being held at different times in a temporary cell in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison central booking.
"They were sleeping on a bench," Richardson said. "There’s no beds, there’s no cots; I’m not sure if they get a mattress.”
A photo Hicks provided of the cells used to house juveniles shows a type of mattress on top of one bench, hanging over the thin bench's edge.
Hicks said these juveniles are transferred out "as soon as possible." She said that only two juveniles stay in such a cell to sleep, but there can be up to six held inside otherwise.
Deron Patin, interim director of the East Baton Rouge Juvenile Detention Center, said the one new placement at his facility has not put an extra burden on their operations, but he's not sure how things might change moving forward. In 2018, the juvenile detention center had an average daily population of 27, with 52 total beds.
And, he noted, cases in adult court take much longer to go through the legal system, sometimes years, while there is a much quicker turnover rate in juvenile court.
“How many days they hold down a bed limits the capacity for kids who need that bed," Patin said. "Once I reach capacity, I have no ability to transfer."
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Louisiana Center for Children's Right's Policy director Rachel Gassert said that in New Orleans the juvenile detention center has, for some time, actually designated 12 beds to house this unique population, because the city council decided this was the more appropriate place for them, especially pretrial.
“They all stay in the (juvenile) facility unless they are moved for some other reason," Gassert said, noting that if those beds become filled, they have designated a process to chose the most appropriate inmates, usually the oldest, to transfer to the adult facility.
In Baton Rouge, prosecutors almost automatically file to have juveniles, who have been charged as adults, moved to an adult detention center.
East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III said his office looks at every case individually, taking into account the seriousness of the charge, the facts of the case and any prior criminal record. But, Moore said,he believes primarily for safety reasons that youths charged with serious enough crimes to land them in adult court should no longer be housed with other juvenile offenders.
"We believe a judge should consider whether it is appropriate to continue to house transferred juveniles who are charged with crimes such as rape, armed robbery and murder with juveniles charged with less serious offenses," Moore wrote in a statement.
And in considering these cases — which are relatively limited despite a record-high number of juveniles arrested on murder in 2018 — Patin said the juvenile center is also preparing to house all 17-year-old juveniles arrested on non-violent offenses, a much larger group of inmates.
At the beginning of March, juvenile detention centers and juvenile courts across the state will have jurisdiction over non-violent crimes committed by all youth, the first stage of the state's implementation of the Raise the Age law.
“Our biggest concern is there will be a significant reduction in available beds," Patin said.
Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the spelling of the last name for Mr. Ricardo Alberto Agular. The Advocate regrets the error.
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