Ten years after it opened, Louisiana’s top-security juvenile prison at Tallulah is being shut down, a move that child advocates see as an admission that it was a failure, the Associated Press reports. The closure comes after years of investigations by the U.S. Justice Department, human rights advocates, and others who found it a place of chaos and brutality. The state plans to turn it into an adult prison. “Tallulah became known as one of the worst, if not the worst, juvenile facility in the country,” said Mark Soler of the Youth Law Center, a juvenile justice advocacy group in Washington, D.C.
Critics said Tallulah, with individual cells inside cell blocks behind razor wire, created an atmosphere unlikely to rehabilitate teenagers. More likely, they said, the teens would be released to commit far worse crimes, followed by sentences to the state’s adult prisons.
The Tallulah prison began as part of Louisiana’s brief experiment with privately run juvenile lockups. Its clusters of beige metal buildings were built in 1994, with a capacity for 620 inmates. The prison was first run by a company with no experience in juvenile prisons. Riots and allegations of abuse forced the state to take on-and-off control. In 1997, the Justice Department found widespread abuse of inmates by guards. Investigators reported that teens were routinely beating and, in some cases, raping fellow inmates. Mentally ill inmates were housed with dangerous felons.