BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — One state senator is looking to make sweeping changes in the juvenile justice system in hopes to address the trend of violence across all facilities.
SB323 by Sen. Heather Cloud looks to restructure the juvenile justice system here in Louisiana. It would break kids out into low, medium, and high-risk tiers and they would be put into different detention facilities. The state’s five facilities will be designated with a tier level as well to determine which kids they would be taking in.
With reports of runaways and violent assaults on correctional officers in juvenile detention centers, Sen. Cloud hopes separating the risky kids will help.
“This plan is built around safety. It is safety for our youth and safety for our staff. We feel like if you have safety in the facilities we can foster a whole lot better environment than what we have now,” said William Sommers, deputy secretary of the Office of Juvenile Justice.
When a child is taken into the system or is already there, they will be evaluated on risk of violence, school record, and other factors to determine what kind of facility they need to go to.
“If a youth is doing well and doing what they’re supposed to do then we are going to reclassify them every six months. Sometimes they might reclassify as high, sometimes they might go down,” Sommers said.
A new more fortified facility is being built in Monroe to replace the Swanson facility. It will have individual rooms for juveniles. The Missouri Model adopted by the state years ago currently keeps kids in dorm-style rooms.
“The idea of the Missouri Model is outstanding. I mean, it really is. It’s just it wasn’t funded correctly,” Sommers said.
One correctional officer testified that this format leads to violence in the overnight hours. The officer told her story of how a 14-year-old inmate had severely beaten her and threatened to kill her. She hopes the tiered system can put the more violent inmates into more secure buildings.
“One of the factors that I think have been prohibitive in recruitment in workplace safety,” Sen. Cloud said.
Kids may have to move farther away from their residence due to needing to upgrade to a higher-risk facility. The high-risk facility in Monroe will only be able to hold 72 kids and Sommers said they would have to go to a secondary evaluation if all those beds were to be filled.
Some fear the kinds of guards that would be put in the high-risk center. With the more high-risk kids, Randal Marshall with VOTE is concerned guards could treat them more aggressively.
“Angola is created the same way. You have a good yard, a bad yard, and an ugly yard… Administration will assign correctional officers with certain temperaments to deal with certain temperaments of the yard,” Marshall said.
Many members recognize there is a major issue in juvenile centers and hope this method will lead to meaningful change. It has gotten bipartisan support and cleared the committee without objection. It now heads to the full House for a final vote.