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  • mcprison mcprison Feb 23, 2000 11:27 PM Flag

    More trouble likely for WHC

    Judge asked to seal youth center report initially


    By VICKI FERSTEL
    Suburban writer

    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.

 
GEO
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