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  • mcprison mcprison Apr 19, 2000 1:34 PM Flag

    WHC to take back Jena soon 1

    Officials unsure how long state will control Jena
    juvenile center

    By JOE GYAN JR.
    New Orleans
    bureau

    NEW ORLEANS -- A Louisiana corrections
    official and representatives of Florida-based Wackenhut
    Corrections Corp. told a juvenile court judge Tuesday they
    don�t know how long the state�s temporary takeover of
    the embattled Jena Juvenile Justice Center will
    last.

    But the Wackenhut executives said they fully expect
    to regain control of the 276-bed prison, where two
    near-riots occurred since it opened in December
    1998.

    The state seized control of the prison from
    owner/operator Wackenhut on April 6 in the midst of negotiations
    to settle civil rights lawsuits targeting the Jena
    facility and four other juvenile prisons, including one in
    Baton Rouge. The state and Wackenhut agreed last week
    to enact sweeping reforms at the Jena center in a
    temporary settlement of the suits.

    Orleans Parish
    Juvenile Court Judge Mark Doherty removed seven boys from
    the Jena center last month after federal reports
    alleged physical abuse of inmates at the for-profit
    prison. Doherty also visited the facility.

    Doherty
    held a hearing Tuesday to decide whether to let
    Wackenhut be a party to hearings to decide the future
    placement of the boys he removed from the Jena prison. In
    the end, the judge said that the state Department of
    Public Safety and Corrections -- not Wackenhut -- can
    call and question witnesses at the hearings, but that
    Wackenhut can attend the hearings and assist the
    state.

    "We have to look at whose interests are being
    protected in these proceedings.

    "It�s the child�s,
    not the corporation�s," Juvenile Justice Project of
    Louisiana attorney Sarah Ottinger argued to Doherty before
    he issued his ruling.

    Despite a request from
    the state�s attorneys, Doherty refused to close
    Tuesday�s hearing to the media. During the three-hour
    hearing, Doherty pressed a state corrections official and
    two Wackenhut representatives on the duration of the
    state�s temporary takeover of the Jena prison.

    "I
    don�t know how long it�s going to be," George White,
    deputy assistant corrections secretary, told the
    judge.

    "Is it fair to say that no date has been set?"
    Doherty asked.

    "I�m not aware of any date," White
    answered, adding that he doesn�t think the state takeover
    will be for a "protracted period."

    Juvenile
    Justice Project director David Utter, who represents one
    of the boys Doherty removed from the Jena center,
    asked White if Wackenhut will regain operational
    control of the center after the state completes its
    probe.

    "I don�t know," White replied.

    Wackenhut Vice
    President Donald Houston and Amber Martin, director of
    contract compliance for Wackenhut�s eastern region, both
    testified that they expect Wackenhut will once again run
    the prison at some point.

    "I think we are,
    yes," Martin said.

    "When we�re going to take
    back over, those discussions haven�t started."

    SortNewest  |  Oldest  |  Most Replied Expand all replies
    • Martin stressed that the agreement between the
      state and Wackenhut for the state to take interim
      operational control of the Jena prison is "all verbal" and
      that Wackenhut�s contract is still
      valid.

      "There�s been no revocation of the contract at all," she
      said. "It is a verbal agreement. The contract still
      holds."

      Houston said he "invited" the state to assume interim
      operational control of the Jena center "because there were
      some investigations that needed to be
      conducted."

      Utter said reports by U.S. Justice Department
      consultants are "the reason they took over." The reports
      alleged extreme violence at the Jena
      center.

      Houston said the state�s temporary takeover does not have
      an "ending date" or "exit date." He said Wackenhut
      will regain operational control "whenever they (the
      state) conclude what they�re doing now."

      White
      said the Jena prison is under the control of Warden
      Mike Roberts.

      "Ninety-five percent of the
      employees at the facility are Wackenhut employees," Houston
      said. "They report to the warden." Martin said more
      than 100 Wackenhut employees work at the
      prison.

      "To what extent is the Department of Corrections
      operating the facility?" Doherty asked.

      "We�re
      calling the shots," White replied.

      "The
      operational decisions are currently being made by the state,"
      Houston said.

      "Yes, we�re in operational control,
      but Wackenhut is there with us," said state
      corrections attorney Martha Morgan.

      Utter asked
      Houston who is liable if one of the juveniles at the Jena
      center breaks an arm.

      "It is a question we�ve
      had, and we�ve discussed it with the state," Houston
      said. "I can�t tell you where that is
      now."

      Houston also said any Wackenhut employee under
      investigation for alleged abuse at the Jena prison won�t have
      any contact with the inmates until the probe is
      completed.

      "That�s our policy," he
      said.

      Martin said the state pays Wackenhut $70 per day per bed
      at the Jena center, whether the bed is filled or
      not.

      "Wackenhut is being paid for 276 beds," she said,
      acknowledging that, before the state took control of the
      center, negotiations began between the state and
      Wackenhut over the pay issue.

 
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