Louisiana lawmakers question youth prison costs
by The Associated Press Thursday April 09, 2009, 7:27 AM
BATON ROUGE -- Figures that show Louisiana pays well above several other Southern states to imprison its juvenile offenders prompted angry complaints from state lawmakers.
Louisiana spends more than $115,000 annually for each one, compared to $70,000 in Florida, $85,000 in Alabama and $34,000 in Arkansas. That's according to information provided Wednesday to the House Appropriations Committee by its budget analyst.
Lawmakers say the Office of Juvenile Justice seems to have too many employees at its three youth prisons. They also criticized plans to make budget cuts by eliminating prevention programs.
The head of the youth services office, Mary Livers, says she's working to improve efficiencies in her agency and to cut costs.Last we heard, the Louisiana Legislature was closing Jetson Center for Youth in Baton Rouge and issuing a sort of gentleperson's agreement to establish "13 or 14" more regional rehabilitation centers modeled after Missouri's vastly more effective juvenile justice system. Now, the Louisiana Legislature is offended by the amount that the state spends per resident in a system that is ostensibly intended to rehabilitate young people sentenced to the inadequate number of centers we do have. This turnabout alone is enough to make the head spin.
In addition, it's hard to determine whether The Times Picayune or the legislators, or both, have now opted to term youth detention centers, or centers for youth, "youth prisons." But whoever is making this conceptual error should stop. There is supposed to be no such thing as a "youth prison" in the U.S. to start with, and that's a fact I'm appalled to have to remind anybody of.
Furthermore, that we spend more than Florida, Alabama, or Arkansas, is hardly anything to be ashamed of, now is it? I take it we don't spend more than Missouri, the state with the model we're supposed to be emulating.
This type of uncritical knee-jerk reporting and legislating is certainly living up to Louisiana's reputation as a backward state. Perhaps one way of cutting costs is to lower the number of youth detainees, now "prisoners," by ceasing to incarcerate so many young people for victimless offenses such as possession of marijuana. But this article gives so little information that it's impossible to get any sense of what exactly the legislators' complaints are. Here's another case in which there's no reflection on the idea that social spending is problematic in and of itself and that young people who get locked up for whatever reason are undeserving of anything.