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Statewide Juvenile Justice Reform

When JJPL first opened our doors, Louisiana’s juvenile justice system was notorious for its violence.  Children, predominantly low-income and African-American, were warehoused in brutal, adult-like institutions, often suffering from physical brutality and emotional abuse.  Although the large majority of youth who entered the juvenile justice system were charged with non-violent offenses, the recidivism rates were high – too often, entering the juvenile justice system became a pathway to adult prison, rather than an opportunity for rehabilitation.

It was this fact that caused JJPL to file litigation in 1998 with the Department of Justice on conditions of confinement, which resulted in a settlement agreement that produced significant reforms in Louisiana youth facilities.  JJPL also worked alongside its partners, including Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLC), to pass Act 1225 in 2003, sweeping juvenile justice reform legislation that mandated the closure of the notoriously brutal Tallulah Center for Youth and committed the state to a more therapeutic model of juvenile justice based off of the highly successful model developed in Missouri of small, home-like facilities and a continuum of care outside of incarceration for youth.

Since then, there has been significant progress in the Louisiana juvenile justice system.  While there were over 2000 youth incarcerated in Louisiana in 1998, today there are less than 600.  The percentage of youth in prison for non-violent offenses has significantly declined, and the number of community based alternatives to incarceration has increased.  However, the state still has not reached it’s goals in reform.  Secure care facilities remain overcrowded and plagued by problems, while budget cuts in recent years have impeded some of the progress that has been made in developing alternatives.  JJPL works currently to:

Monitor Louisiana’s Secure Care Facilities

There are currently three secure care state run facilities in Louisiana and an additional facility is planned to be opened in Bunkie 2015-2016.  These facilities are: Bridge City just outside of New Orleans, and Swanson and Swanson Columbia, which are both in Monroe. Each facility has phones dedicated to a hotline that is connected directly to JJPL’s offices, where youth can call to alert JJPL staff of any issues or concerns.

JJPL Youth Advocates routinely visit youth that are housed in these facilities in an effort to get redress for their problems, as well as to monitor the progress with reform overall.  As an independent agency, JJPL is a critical voice for youth in secure care, and provides information to the Office of Juvenile Justice, the Legislature, and the public regarding the current state of reform and recommendations for full implementation of a rehabilitation model.

For more information contact Chandra Grayson.

Advocate for Alternatives to Incarceration

While it is necessary to improve conditions in secure care and for incarcerated youth, JJPL recognizes the fact that alternatives to incarceration are a far more effective and inexpensive way to treat juvenile delinquency.  A study by the National Institute of Health demonstrated that evidence-based alternatives to incarceration such as multisystemic therapy (MST), which provides intensive wrap-around services to youth and their families in a community based environment, are the most effective means to reduce juvenile violence and delinquency.  At the same time, it costs only $5,000 a year to serve a youth in a community based setting, while it costs between $50,000 and $100,000 to house them for one year in secure care.  As such, JJPL works to educate the public on the benefits of community based alternatives to incarceration and advocates for a greater investment in their development statewide.

Improve Juvenile Detention Center Standards

In addition to it’s three state-run youth secure care facilities, Louisiana also has sixteen local juvenile detention centers, where youth are held before adjudication by the court.  These centers are locally operated, and for years have had no consistent standards or oversight – which unfortunately has led to frequent stories of mismanagement and abuse.

In partnership with other stakeholders across the state, JJPL helped create a legislative task force to develop and implement juvenile detention standards statewide.  With JJPL as the chair of the task force and with the partnership of the Louisiana Juvenile Detention Association, a comprehensive set of standards were developed based on best practices that will fundamentally improve conditions of juvenile detention across the state. These standards became effective in 2012, and all centers were licensed by the Department of Children and Family Services in 2013.  JJPL continues vigilant monitoring of facilities to help ensure compliance with the facilities.

JJPL has also been working to improve conditions at New Orleans juvenile detention center, Youth Study Center (YSC).  After the facility re-opened post-Katrina with stories of rodent infestations, mold and mildew, rotting food, and a lack of mental health services or education, JJPL partnered with law firm Holland & Knight, LLC to bring litigation on conditions of confinement in the center.  The litigation, alongside a full organizing and media campaign to “Close Down YSC!”, resulted in a settlement agreement that has dramatically improved conditions in the center.  Now, construction is underway for a model juvenile justice complex to replace the decrepit YSC, and a new administration has dramatically improved programming and treatment of youth in the center.

For more information contact Carol Kolinchak.

Statewide Juvenile Justice Reform