La. senator believes solution in the works for housing juvenile offenders

We've heard the pleas for the past two years about the need for a new or renovated juvenile jail here in our area.
Published: May. 23, 2023 at 10:47 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - We’ve heard the pleas for the past two years about the need for a new or renovated juvenile jail here in our area.

Multiple law enforcement officials, lawmakers, and more have sounded the alarm about the issue.

So, will Louisiana lawmakers address the growing issue in this Legislative Session?

“We’re not talking about once they’re convicted,” said Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi. “Once we get them into court, either adult or juvenile court, and we convict them, the state has beds for these people. We’re talking about pre-trial juveniles, those are the people that are giving us the heartburn right now.”

Back in October 2022, the Office of Juvenile Justice transported the first group of violent juvenile inmates from the troubled Bridge City Center for Youth to the old death row facility at Angola, which had been modified for the new juvenile inmates.

There is a facility to house juveniles in the Florida parishes, but officials said it’s not usually an option for juveniles in our area.

“So, we have an increase in the amount of potential people that need to be housed, from 15 - 17 years of age, and we’ve had to use places as far as Alabama, Mississippi. If we find one there, that deputy leaves with that individual to go to Mississippi for three, four, five, six hours, whatever it takes. Once he’s there, we drop him off, and we come back. Within 72 hours we have to go back, pick him (juvenile offender) up, bring him back to Iberville, and stand him before a judge,” said Sheriff Stassi.

But where do you place some of the lower-level youth offenders?

“So, we’re still talking about some time before we see some real movement,” said state Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge.

Sen. Barrow spoke with the Deputy Secretary of the Office of Juvenile Justice Tuesday and confirmed what’s the next step in finding a place to house the juveniles.

Sen. Barrow was told work is already being done at a facility in Monroe, Louisiana.

“There is funding to actually go ahead and complete the building of the Swanson facility (Monroe), and then the renovation of the facility that’s going to be at Jetson. The plan is to rehab the Jetson facility (in Baker) and the plan is to really make it very modernized,” explained Sen. Barrow.

She was told the first goal is to finish the renovations at the woman’s prison in St. Gabriel, likely by sometime in late 2024 or 2025, and the women would move back there.

Some of the most violent youth offenders, like the ones at Angola right now, would move to the facility in Monroe once it’s completed.

Then, renovations would be made at the Jetson facility in Baker.

“It’d be mainly for those who are coming in as an intake to see where they would go. Because now we’re trying to do this tier system, so you know those that have minor offenses, versus those that have major offenses, making sure they are not all blended together,” added Sen. Barrow.

Funding by state lawmakers is needed to get the ball rolling on a solution. And Sen. Barrow stated that money is in HB2 for capital outlay projects.

Sen. Barrow said a lot of these plans are still some years away.

But the big goal of OJJ is to finish the work at the facility in Monroe.

Senator Barrow said a community meeting would take place before the juveniles are transferred to Baker, but that is still a long way away.

WAFB reached out to officials with the Office of Juvenile Justice for more insight on all of this but never heard back from officials.

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