In the summer of 1996, Charles “Chuck” Daniel found himself transferred to Louisiana’s Angola prison to serve out a 149-year sentence for attempted murder and armed robbery that amounted to life imprisonment. Daniel, then one of Angola’s youngest prisoners, was technically separated from adult cells. That didn’t stop him from enduring punishment from older inmates. Adult inmates would throw their own feces at Daniel, leaving him with two options: to sit in the filth until the next day’s shower or wash himself with the toilet water in his cell. Daniel had one hour of restricted freedom from his cell daily: 45 minutes to roam the hallway and 15 minutes to shower. “It’s inhumane for a youngster to be in that type of position,” he said. The experience of Daniel, now 44, is reflected in a federal class-action lawsuit which, for now, has halted Louisiana’s practice of housing underage detainees at its harshest penitentiary, the Guardian reports.
Court filings backed by the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project and other civil rights attorneys show that youths housed in Angola suffered extended periods of solitary confinement, without access to clean water, adequate food, and air conditioning. Educational and mental health resources, like a library and a full staff of teachers, did not exist. Angola’s distance from other more populous areas in the state made it difficult for juveniles to schedule family visits. In the lawsuit, 17-year-old plaintiff Charles C stated: “My cell is incredibly small and I have no room to move. I can’t drink the water out of the faucet because it has a color, tastes bad, and would make me sick. I worry about my mental health because I’m forced to be in these cells.” After a seven-day hearing, Federal judge Shelly Dick ordered the removal of teens from Angola due to “intolerable” conditions. The Office of Juvenile Justice announced in September that juveniles were transferred to a new facility; however, the office described the arrangement as temporary and said it intended to appeal Judge Dick’s ruling, arguing that the judge’s finding of unconstitutional facility conditions was incorrect.