unfortunately, I am relatively unable to contribute news items on Whackenhut since they have only one facility in my country, Canada, and that is on the other side of the continent, New Brinswick. I only read Canadian newspapers and so I only see major news items from the U.S., such as anti-trust case against Microsoft. I definately rely on this board and your posts for information. I have not read all 1159 posts on here, although I have read many of them, but was still anaware of Tallulah. Thanks again for the info that you posted and the reply to my question.
Privately run center defendant in abuse suit Inmates mutilate themselves to get protection, officials say
By Steve Ritea Capital bureau/The Times-Picayune
BATON ROUGE - The state took the first step Wednesday toward restoring order at the troubled Jena Juvenile Justice Center, assuming control of the privately run centerthat the U.S. Department of Justice has called intensely violent and inhumane.
The step, which may be temporary, comes one week after the Justice Department added the center to an existing lawsuit that covers all juvenile jails in the state, saying it feared youths there were in danger.
State officials and Wackenhut Corrections Corp., the company that runs Jena, reached a private agreement that allows Louisiana to assume control as forced negotiations continue among the federal government, the state and Wackenhut.
Because of the ongoing negotiations, state Corrections Secretary Richard Stalder could not say whether the move is permanent or even how long the state would run the center.
U.S. District Judge Frank Polozola directed the state to "assume interim operational control" Wednesday afternoon. But he rescinded the order several hours later after an objection from Justice Department officials. But Stalder called that ruling "a technical legal matter" and said "the state is now in charge of Jena."
Jerry Goodwin, a former assistant warden at the Wade Correctional Center for adult prisoners, was named Jena warden on Wednesday.
But the takeover -- the second of a juvenile prison in Louisiana in two years -- does not end concerns among Justice Department officials about conditions.
"We feel that much more needs to be done to improve conditions at Jena," department spokeswoman Kara Peterman said.
Wackenhut spokesman Patrick Cannan said the company is "continuing discussions with the state of Louisiana and will fully cooperate with the federal court and other parties to ensure that the Jena facility continues to operate in a safe and secure manner."
On Friday, the Justice Department asked Polozola to intervene, claiming guards at the jail near Alexandria routinely abuse youths, steal their clothes, encourage them to fight one another and deny them proper medical care.
"This is the best development that could have happened for the safety of these young people," said Orleans Parish Juvenile Court Judge Mark Doherty, who visited the center in January and subsequently relocated seven youths to other jails.
"We hope that this takeover brings stability to the institution," said David Utter, a lawyer with the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, which represents several Jena inmates. "I personally don't think that private prisons work in this state."
Gov. Foster seems to agree. "We won't be having any more private prisons in Louisiana as long as I'm governor," he said Tuesday.
In its court filing, the Justice Department alleged that Wackenhut has hired workers who have criminal backgrounds.
If true, the state, while it is running the center, may be able to fire them.
"The employees there are still employed by Wackenhut, but the state exercises discretion about who continues to work there," Stalder said.
The Justice Department also said some youths at Jena repeatedly mutilate themselves so they will be transferred to the prison's medical unit and avoid being pressured for food or sex by other prisoners and abused by guards.
"Some juveniles have felt so unsafe in the facility, that they have hoped to spend the rest of their time in lock-down without school or recreation in order to ensure their protection," federal officials wrote in a memorandum attached to the lawsuit.
The takeover marks the second time in less than two years that state corrections officials have assumed management of a juvenile prison in Louisiana.
In July 1998, the Corrections Department took over the Tallulah Correctional Center for Youth following a spate of highly critical Justice Department reports on prison conditions.
At the time, 35 Corrections Department employees were immediately assigned to the privately owned and operated prison to help guards maintain control.
Stalder said it wasn't necessary to immediately send a similar contingent to Jena, but he wouldn't say why.
The state's takeover of Tallulah became permanent in September after some of the prison's guards abandoned their posts and walked away from their jobs in an apparent protest over low pay.