As Hurricane Season Approaches, New Orleans Needs a Legal Plan to Evacuate Incarcerated Kids

In the lead-up to Hurricane Ida in 2021, New Orleans evacuated 36 children from the city’s juvenile jail to an adult prison – a move both dangerous and illegal. Read our open letter to city officials demanding a safe, lawful, and transparent evacuation plan before the impending start of hurricane season.

Dear City Leaders, 

With hurricane season fast approaching, it is time to make preparations to keep all New Orleans residents safe, including children jailed at the Juvenile Justice Intervention Center (JJIC).  The City’s previous plan to evacuate children to an adult prison was dangerous and unlawful, and has not yet been replaced. We are asking that you now implement a safe and legal evacuation plan in order to protect young people and JJIC staff during what is predicted to be another above-average hurricane season

Louisiana law clearly states that children being tried in juvenile court cannot be incarcerated in an adult facility. This law exists for a reason: adult prisons are dangerous places for children, who are more vulnerable to sexual assault and physical abuse, and more likely to die by suicide than youth held in juvenile facilities. 

Yet as Hurricane Ida approached New Orleans in 2021, the City evacuated 36 children from JJIC – a pre-trial, juvenile facility – to Elayn Hunt Correctional Center – a post-sentencing, adult prison. The City was sued for its evacuation plan and forced to spend precious time and resources defending its actions in court. 

While we understand that communication can be difficult during an emergency, the lack of transparency about the evacuation plan created added trauma for youth and their families. Parents did not know where their children were and only learned later that they were in an adult prison. The youth, some as young as 14, were not able to speak to their families and did not know how they had fared during the storm. 

JJIC needs an evacuation plan that is safe, legal, and transparent before the next hurricane, which can form as early as May. Five juvenile detention centers were able to evacuate children to other juvenile facilities last year, and New Orleans must find a way to do the same in order to avoid another lawsuit and protect the children in its care. 

We can’t control the weather, but we can and must prepare to face it as best we can. Please let us know if Ubuntu Village can be of help. 

Sincerely, 

Ernest Johnson
Director, Ubuntu Village

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