HEADLINE: SENATE PANEL TO INVESTIGATE REPORTS OF ABUSE AT JENA JAIL
BYLINE: By Ed Anderson and Steve Ritea Capital bureau
DATELINE: BATON ROUGE
BODY: The chairman of the Senate committee that oversees the state prison system said Friday that he wants to know how the Jena Juvenile Justice Center became a topic for national discourse and a target of federal Justice Department officials, who say there is widespread abuse at the facility near Alexandria.
Sen. Donald Cravins, D-Arnaudville, told Richard Stalder, the secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, that he wants answers before lawmakers go home after the special session ends, probably next week.
Cravins said he will schedule a special meeting of his Senate Judiciary B Committee to look into the allegations. He said he wants officials from the department and Wackenhut Corrections Corp., the private company that operates the jail for the state, to attend the meeting.
Stalder said that if he does not attend, his staff members will. Cravins said he has been assured by a Wackenhut spokesman that company officials will attend.
The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday amended an existing lawsuit against Louisiana to include the Jena jail and Wackenhut.
It asks that a federal judge intervene and correct problems at a jail where guards allegedly abuse youths, encourage them to fight one another and provide them with inadequate medical and educational facilities.
"We just got out of (problems with the juvenile jail in) Tallulah," Cravins said after the meeting. "How the hell can you fall asleep at the switch again? We have been told everything has been taken care of. At least, that is the impression we have gotten from corrections" officials.
Cravins said the state has a legal responsibility to monitor the problems and clean them up. "Think of the liability alone," he said.
Cravins called the problems at Jena "not only an embarrassment to the state, but it is following a pattern of conduct in the juvenile justice system. If half of what is being said about Jena is true, somebody needs to answer for the allegations."