Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Louisiana Legislature Moves to Better Serve Troubled Youth? I'm Unconvinced. [UPDATED]

The legislation linked below sounds like a fine idea: Close the overcrowded Jetson Center for Youth, the largest youth detention center in the state, which has lost its accreditation and is plagued by violent episodes between youth and guards, and move its residents to smaller, "community-based" facilities with a real focus on rehabilitation and recovery.


Yet I hear from inside one of the state's other existing youth centers that there is much concern over the fact that the three new facilities promised below or the "13 or 14" to be established or built at some vague point will not exist when the Jetson Center is closed. In fact, Richard Thompson, head of Louisiana's Office of Youth Development, admits that "No decisions have been made on location of the regional juvenile facilities because there must be discussions with community leaders and support 'to move a center like this into a community.'"

Approximately 221 youths will be transferred to other existing centers throughout the state, thereby overcrowding those youth centers, laying off some staff (or giving them the option of working in state adult correctional facilities) and overtaxing the remaining staff and resources. Bobby Jindal warmly supports the legislation. It seems to me that closing one center and overtaxing others without a clear plan, clear funding allocations, and a clear commitment to establish and staff new centers would save the state some money. It seems to me that Bobby Jindal has been known to cut back on critical state services before.

I'll be more than happy to be pronounced cynical or even paranoid if the youth of Louisiana ultimately benefit from this legislation. But I cannot find specific information about the funding in place to establish and staff new facilities when and if locations are approved. Isn't the cart in front of the horse here?

Also, why does the bill change the name of the "Office of Youth Development" to the "Office of Juvenile Justice" if its aim is to focus on youth development and not retributive "justice"?

UPDATE: Well, so much for finding out that this post was either cynical or paranoid. I wish for the sake of everyone who is in a youth detention center in Louisiana, everyone who knows or loves someone who is, and all of us whose lives will be touched by former youth detainees that it were.

But no.

An informed source tells me the following: There is no existing plan to establish youth centers throughout the state to better serve the 220 youths now warehoused in the Jetson Center. All that is mandated by SB 749 is closing the Jetson Center for Youth and sending its residents to already existing youth centers, which already operate at high capacity.

The Juvenile Justice Implementation Committee met on Friday. The Committee is led by Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu, and among its members are Richard Thompson, Representative Don Cravins, and Representative Jetson. Richard Thompson, Jindal's Head of the Office of Youth Development, when pressed by other committee members for specific information about plans to open additional youth centers, clearly stated that he did not have a detailed plan. The Committee requested that he bring the (or a) plan to its June meeting. However, since the legislature will be out of session in June, there will be no venue to ask for funds at that time. Richard Thompson's details, when and if he provides them, will be too late: By then, if SB 749, which enjoys bi-partisan support, has passed, the Office of Youth Development will be forced by law to close the Jetson Center for Youth.

Currently, LSU provides medical and mental health services to the Office of Youth Development. There is speculation that Jindal's broader plan for "reform" involves removing LSU from this equation altogether. If he did so, where would social services for juvenile offenders come from? Or would social services come from anywhere at all?

What we see here is a blatant plan to warehouse troubled youth in Louisiana by further crowding and stressing the system. What's even more maddening is that the Louisiana Legislature is doing so under the guise of improving the lives of troubled youth and relieving an overstressed system.

Please join me in contacting all members of the House, urging them to vote No on SB 749, reminding them that the bill includes no plan to even attempt the reform it promises! Fellow bloggers, please help to get the word out about this literal miscarriage of justice.

Here is scant media information on SB 749:

The troubled Jetson Center for Youth would close in 2009 and its juvenile offenders transferred to smaller community-based facilities under a bill that cleared a state Senate committee on Tuesday.

The Senate Committee on Judiciary B endorsed a reworked Senate Bill 749, then shipped it to the full Senate for debate.

“It’s an old physical plant and part of an antiquated system” that fails to save juvenile offenders from lives of crime, said Sen. Don Cravins Jr., sponsor of the legislation.

Cravins, D-Opelousas, said it is long past time to change to a community-based system of rehabilitation that involves parents and local resources from education opportunities to mental health care.

He said 40 percent of juvenile offenders have mental health issues.

Today, Jetson is home to about 220 male offenders who range in age from 14 to 20 years old. They are incarcerated for crimes ranging from purse snatching and drug offenses to murder and armed robbery. The facility is on Old Scenic Highway near Groom Road in Baker.

Jetson has been plagued by violence, reported rapes, and guards and juveniles injured during confrontations. The state’s largest juvenile facility has lost its accreditation from the American Correctional Association.

Under SB 749, Jetson would shut its doors by June 30, 2009. A provision would allow for an extension until November 2009 if problems develop.

The state would initially open three, 48-bed secure juvenile facilities in different regions into which Jetson residents would be transferred. No more than 12 juveniles could be housed in a unit.

The number of community facilities would rise to 13 or 14, spread throughout the state in the coming years.

“This bill is going to be very productive,” said Richard Thompson, the head of the state’s Office of Youth Development. “It gets us from talking about reform to actually beginning the process of reform.”
(continue reading)


G Bitch said...

Excellent post, AF! Damn, is this what the next four years will be like in LA?

A.F. said...

Thanks, GB. I hope not. I think that this kind of balogna is exactly what Jindal and most of his apponintees consider "reform," though.

E.J. said...

Man, has my head been in the sand. Granted, putting juvenile delinquents together usually makes them worse off, but this new plan...oh wait, we don't have a plan. We need a ANOTHER business plan for the new hospital, but since we're not spending anymore money on our children, I guess we don't need a plan for them.

Leigh C. said...

This "reform" of which you speak has spread from the White House (Iraq)to New Orleans (schools, private homes, affordable housing, hospitals, etc.)all the way to Red Stick and beyond. The plan is only to close and demolish. Anything beyond that is lagniappe.

It's awful.

A.F. said...

E.J. and Leigh, Yeah, if we have no plan for public schools and no plan for public hospital, it's pretty unrealistic to that those with even less of a lobby (if that's imaginable) will avoid being abused. I wish that these Bushites would just tell it as it is: we've won the revolution, all your assets are under our control, and you're on your own. If you don't have massive capital and your own hired gun(s), well, too bad.

Anonymous said...

i was one of them kids in jetson back in 1996-1998,i tell u this much i would have rather been put in a aduit prison,jetson is no place for anyone i dont care what the crime is,if i was to have to tell u about the whole time i was in there,u better be ready to be listen for a week,i been raped,beat,& thrown in a lockdown cell & beateven more by gards.its just to much to to have to say,yall think we did the crime we gotta do the time,but put them kids else where,i know i been there & its worst then hell it self.Jetson should have been shut down many many years ago

A.F. said...

Thank you so much for telling your story, Anonymous. I'm for closing all places like Jetson and want the state to make good on its promise to open the community-based centers (as they promised) so that what happened to you doesn't happen to anybody ever, ever again. My worry is that they're closing Jetson but moving the types of problems you experienced to other overcrowded places.