Louisiana State Penitentiary

The entrance of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola and nicknamed the "Alcatraz of the South" and "The Farm," is seen on October 14, 2013.

(Photo: Giles Clarke/Getty Images)

ACLU Urges Court to Save Children From Deadly Heat at Louisiana's Angola Prison

"It has been dangerously hot in Angola so far this summer," said one medical expert. "Confining children for all or most of the day to concrete and cement buildings without air conditioning is foolhardy and perilous."

The ACLU and other legal advocacy groups on Monday issued an emergency plea for a federal court to order the transfer of children incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary—better known as the notorious Angola prison—in potentially deadly temperatures exceeding 130°F on the heat index without air conditioning.

Scores of teenagers imprisoned on Angola's former death row were locked in windowless cells without air conditioning for nearly 24 hours a day for several days this month as temperatures soared, the groups claim. At least 13 people in Texas and Louisiana have died from the scorching heat in recent weeks.

It's getting worse. On Tuesday, the mercury topped 97°F at the prison, with high temperatures forecast to approach 100°F later this week. The heat index makes it feel even hotter—as hot as 133°F, according to The Appeal.

"I would not dare to keep my dog in these conditions for fear of my dog dying," Dr. Susi U. Vassallo, a medical expert for the prisoners, wrote in a statement to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana. "It has been dangerously hot in Angola so far this summer. Confining children for all or most of the day to concrete and cement buildings without air conditioning is foolhardy and perilous."

"My personal knowledge of the unconstitutional and inadequate medical care provided to adults at Angola heightens my fear that a child will deteriorate or die at Angola due to the conditions and the poor health care provided at the prison," Vassallo added.

According to The Appeal:

The ACLU and other legal advocates sued in August to stop the transfers to Angola due to what they said were inhumane conditions inside the facility. But a federal judge let the plan commence after [Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice] promised it would provide children with education, programs, and services at the facility.

But David Utter, lead counsel in the lawsuit and executive director of the Fair Fight Initiative, told The Appeal in an interview that the agency has failed to deliver in the months since.

"What the state promised that they were going to do before they put any young people in that facility has not happened, and it's time to stop taking the state at his word," Utter said. "The trauma that the state is inflicting on these young people is immeasurable."

The civil rights groups' emergency filing claims child prisoners at Angola are locked up in solitary confinement for 72 hours straight, and that they're confined to their cells for 23 hours a day as punishment and only allowed out to shower or to a recreation area while handcuffed and shackled.

While state officials say the youth unit at Angola will be closed this autumn, critics say the teens can't wait that long. Many also question why children—most of them Black—are imprisoned on the former death row of one of the country's most infamous penitentiaries, which was built on the site of a former slave plantation.

Last year, Chief U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, ruled that minors could be imprisoned at Angola, even though she found Louisiana's plan to do so "disturbing."

"You're sending Black kids to this facility and you're calling it something else," Antonio Travis, youth organizing manager and the New Orleans chapter lead for the group Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children, told The Appeal. "You're calling it something different as if it's not what it is. It's Angola."

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