The Law School Magazine The New York University School of Law

Saving the Children

Derwyn Bunton (’98) wasn’t from Louisiana. He wasn’t an expert, of all things, on the Louisiana juvenile justice system. But when Bunton graduated from the Law School and took a job with the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, he challenged, fought, and ultimately changed forever the nature and quality of Louisiana’s juvenile justice in six short years.

Upon his arrival at the Juvenile Justice Project as a staff attorney (he is now the senior staff attorney), Bunton said that he wrote letters to Governor Mike Foster documenting the appalling level of abuse reported by his clients inside Louisiana’s juvenile prisons. When he got no response, Bunton sued.

Once the suit commenced and discovery proceedings at the prison sites began, Bunton was shocked to discover the extent to which the institutions used physical repression, violence, chemical restraints administered by untrained staff, and corporal punishment to subdue and dehumanize the children. The worst, he said, was the Tallulah juvenile corrections facility where he found numerous children with untreated broken jaws from beatings.

Tallulah was closed in June of 2004. Furthermore, during the Tallulah suit, Louisiana opened another juvenile corrections facility that also generated intense complaints of abuse. Bunton filed another suit, and closed the new prison down in just six weeks.