Department of Justice Seal






TDD (202) 514-1888



WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Justice Department today sued the state of Louisiana and the owner and operator of the Jena Juvenile Justice Center alleging that the juveniles at the facility are subjected to excessive abuse and neglect. At the same time, the Justice Department filed for emergency relief to protect the juveniles from the dangerous and life-threatening conditions there.

The Justice Department initially sued Louisiana in November 1998 for not providing adequate care to the more than 1,700 youth in its secure juvenile correctional system. Today's action asks the court to amend its original suit to include the Jena facility, as well as the 276 bed facility's owner and operator, Wackenhut Corrections Corporation.

Jena, the state's newest secure juvenile correctional facility, opened shortly after the 1998 lawsuit was filed.

"We are taking this action on behalf of young people in this facility who cannot help or protect themselves. We ask the Court to act quickly to protect these young people," said Bill Lann Lee, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. "While we remain open to trying to reach an agreement with Wackenhut and the State to fix these deficiencies, it is clear that, at this time, we need to involve the Court to get some emergency relief."

The amended suit, pending before Chief Judge Frank Polozola in U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge, alleges that juveniles at Jena are at a substantial risk of harm due to unreasonable levels of violence from juvenile-on-juvenile assaults and the use of excessive force and abuse from staff.

The amended complaint also alleges that the juveniles at Jena are subjected to unreasonable isolation and restraints, inadequate medical and mental health care, inadequate general, vocational, and special education, and inadequate rehabilitative services.

The Justice Department is asking the court for emergency relief which would require the State and Wackenhut to:

  • stop using corporal punishment, excessive force, and gas grenades;

  • develop and implement an adequate response to the violence at Jena;

  • prohibit correctional staff from using four and five point restraints;

  • limit the use of chemical restraints and isolation;

  • commit to providing adequate mental health treatment, supervision, and housing for juveniles who engage in suicidal and self-injurious behavior;
  • stop disciplining or punishing juveniles who exhibit self-injurious or suicidal behavior;

  • eliminate obvious suicide hazards in the facility; and,

  • to hire a sufficient number of qualified staff and provide training to provide adequate safety and security;

The Justice Department toured Jena in January 2000 to report to the Court concerning conditions of confinement. The Justice Department submitted its report on the conditions at the end of February 2000. Efforts to work with the State and Wackenhut to reach an agreement on ways to fix Jena have not been successful.

The lawsuit is brought under the pattern or practice provision of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which covers the administration of juvenile justice and the incarceration of juveniles.

"We hope today's action will bring the juveniles confined in Jena the care and treatment they are entitled to, as well as protect them from further harm," added Mr. Lee.

Since 1995, the Justice Department has reached agreements in three similar cases involving juvenile centers in Kentucky, Georgia and Puerto Rico. In each of those cases, juveniles were guaranteed protection from abuse, and were assured to receive adequate medical and mental health care and proper educational services. In November 1999, the Justice Department reached agreement with Louisiana regarding education services to be provided in its juvenile facilities, including Jena.

"Our investigation has revealed substantial improprieties at the Jena facility which warrant immediate judicial intervention to prevent further harm," said L.J. Hymel, United States Attorney in Baton Rouge.