Louisiana’s first moderate-security juvenile jail: A Welcome First StepPosted by Sarah Covert on February 24th, 2010
On a daily basis, youth call our hotline at the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL) to talk about the horrors they face in prisons across the state. In the past six months, we’ve received reports of youth who were jumped by other youth, resulting in broken jaws and knocked-out teeth, as well as of guards employing excessive use of force.
It isn’t often that we are heartened by the moves of our statewide justice system. But, last week the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) announced that a center for the developmentally disabled would be converted in 2011 to a moderate-security juvenile facility. It is the first time that the state of Louisiana is looking to design small therapeutic facilities that are home-like and lack razor wire and cells.
OJJ should get the credit that they deserve for moving toward the building of this first moderate-security facility and taking one critical step toward the expectations set forth in a 2003 law, Act 1225, which demanded Louisiana’s system be modeled after Missouri’s. That state’s successful juvenile justice system includes residential facilities and fully-funded community-based alternative programs that allow for treatment of delinquent youth in their homes.
We know that new facilities such as the one proposed by the state cannot come in addition to the large, correctional style facilities where youth are currently housed and often face inhumane conditions. They also cannot come at the expense of community-based alternatives to incarceration, which research demonstrates would more effectively serve a significant proportion of the youth currently in the state’s care.
We have successfully advocated for an end to privatization of youth prisons and the closure of two facilities, in particular, with histories of abusing children. Today, JJPL and our partners, including Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC), continue to call for a juvenile justice system that includes small and home-like, therapeutic centers, where youth would be close to home.
And, we are also calling for a full continuum of community-based programs, including evidence-based alternatives to incarceration. Such evidence-based programs have been shown through research to improve public safety by reducing rates of re-arrest. Removing youth from their homes has been shown to be associated with higher risk of recidivism. In addition to being more effective, community-based alternatives are also significantly less expensive than residential programs. Treating youth successfully while still in their communities costs between $1,300 and $5,000 per year, compared to $50,000 to incarcerate one youth for a year.
In order to truly rehabilitate youth, meet the needs of at-risk families, and ensure public safety for everyone, we will need to see a continued commitment to and investment in increasing options for treatment, especially evidence-based community programming. We will also need to see the permanent shuttering of the large-scale correctional facilities of the past that continue to plague our state, such as the Swanson Center for Youth, which currently houses more than 200 youth.
It is once all of these goals are realized; the closure of adult-like penal institutions, the development of small, regional centers, and the full investment in community based alternatives, that Louisiana will finally realize the reform that its children so desperately deserve, which will ultimately mean real safety for all of our communities.
Sarah Covert is the Policy & Media Coordinator of JJPL, which was founded 12 years ago as a legal and advocacy organization dedicated to transforming the juvenile justice system in Louisiana into one that builds on the strengths of young people, families, and communities to ensure children are given the greatest opportunity to grow and thrive. JJPL is a member of the Community Justice Network for Youth, a program of the Haywood Burns Institute.
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