An attorney for Wackenhut Corrections Corp. asked U.S. District Judge Frank Polozola to temporarily seal from the public a pending federal report about conditions at Jena Juvenile Justice Center.
"We anticipate that there will be certain facts and conclusions with which Wackenhut will seriously disagree," attorney James R. Chastain Jr. wrote in one of two letters to Polozola in which he made the request.
Chastain asked Polozola to seal the record until Wackenhut can respond to the allegations.
Wackenhut owns and operates the for-profit juvenile prison, which has had two near-riots since it opened in December 1998.
Chastain, in the letters, claims Wackenhut was "ambushed" last month by media coverage of a highly critical report about conditions at the center.
The report, by court-appointed prison expert John Whitley, quoted the preliminary findings of a U.S. Department of Justice consultant who portrayed the center as "unsafe, violent and inhumane."
The final findings of the U.S. Department of Justice and its consultants are expected to be filed this week in federal court at Baton Rouge.
Periodic federal reports to Polozola about conditions at the Jena center and the four other state-level juvenile centers are filed with the court in the on-going civil rights litigation against the state. The owners and operators of the centers are then afforded the opportunity to file their responses.
Chastain, whose Baton Rouge law firm, Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, represents Wackenhut, complained in a Jan. 20 letter to Polozola about Whitley�s report.
"We were simply stunned at the broad sweeping conclusions, many of which in our opinion are baseless in fact," Chastain wrote.
"Wackenhut was ambushed in the newspaper (The Advocate), when these overboard conclusions were made of record," he wrote.
Whitley on Tuesday declined to comment. Justice Department spokeswoman Christine DiBartolo had no immediate comment Tuesday.
Chastain�s Jan. 20 and Feb. 14 letters were filed into the court record on Feb. 15.
The record does not indicate if Polozola replied. Chastain was not available Tuesday for further comment.
David Utter, director of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, called Chastain�s request "unconstitutional and outrageous."
The Juvenile Justice Project, a nonprofit advocacy organization, is one of the plaintiffs in the civil rights litigation.
"I think the public certainly has a right to know what�s going on at Jena," Utter said Tuesday when asked for comment.
"It seems that Wackenhut is more concerned about the bottom line, as a publicly traded corporation, than the health and welfare of the kids," Utter said.
The state pays an average of $70 per juvenile per day, or about $7 million a year, to house 276 juvenile offenders at the Jena center.
Chastain, in the Feb. 14 letter, suggested that the news coverage also may affect the ongoing civil rights litigation settlement negotiations.
"We believe that these negotiations can best be concluded in an atmosphere of cooperation without media involvement," Chastain wrote.
Rick Curry, the special assistant attorney general who represents the state in this matter, said Tuesday when contacted for comment that he "can�t really identify any instance" when news coverage affected the negotiations.
Curry said the state has not been asked to either support or dispute Wackenhut�s request to temporarily seal the record.
Curry, however, said he can appreciate Wackenhut�s request.
"In the past the (Justice Department) reports have somewhat mischaracterized and exaggerated conditions at the facilities," Curry said.