OJJ sends letter to judges asking to release low-risk juvenile offenders, as facilities at ‘capacity’
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The Office of Juvenile Justice sent a letter to Louisiana juvenile court judges on Nov. 10 stating that it is “at full bed capacity” with “secure and non-secure beds.”
Officials said until they can increase bed space, they “cannot safely accept more youth into the agency’s custody.” They added they would like permission from the judges to release juvenile offenders on parole.
According to OJJ, there are two main contributors to the current bed shortage. Officials said the first is the destruction of the bed dormitory at Swanson Center for Youth at Monroe. They explained the 36-bed unit was destroyed during a youth riot. They said the second factor is housing youth with “extensive lengths of stays.” They said some of the offenders in OJJ’s custody could be “stepped down to a less restrictive setting.”
The OJJ Legal Division will file motions seeking the judges’ approval to put some youth back into the community if they are deemed safe, according to the letter.
Officials added once a scheduled new 72-bed facility at Swanson and the repairs are completed to the Cypress Unit they believe OJJ will be in a better position to accommodate housing the youth offenders.
District Attorney Hillar Moore issued the following response:
We are concerned about shortage of secure beds at this time. We will need to receive more information from OJJ on how this affects Baton Rouge youth. Our Juvenile Judges in EBR continue to review cases on a regular basis to avoid youth remaining in custody for extended periods of time. This letter addresses youth who have been adjudicated for felony grade offenses (not violent crimes) who have been in custody longer than 9 months. See Children’s Code 898 B
As District Attorney’s we need to have OJJ notify each of us, pursuant to recent legislation, giving us 7 days advance notice of their intent and supplying us documents and reasons supporting their request. Following their notice and response, in cases where appropriate we will make a record opposing those who are not likely to successfully reintegrate early.
As a state we raised the age of juveniles to the age of 18 but we did not build the infrastructure to keep up with the increased volume of offenders particularly violent offenders. We have seen an increase in violent juvenile offenders coming serious offenses such as murder and gun related crimes over the past two years. We are not dealing with juveniles who are status or minor offenders but those who are a threat to public safety if released.
OJJ released a statement regarding the facility being at full capacity:
OJJ is working with the Louisiana Juvenile Court System to depopulate our secured and non-secured facilities in a safe manner. In one year, OJJ has seen a 27% increase in admissions to our secure care facilities—limiting the amount of bed space available throughout the state. OJJ wants to ensure that we are always in compliance with the Prison Rate Elimination Act (PREA) by keeping those ratios down. OJJ’s focus is rehabilitative services and discussions are continual with the juvenile court system to return non-violent youth back to their communities.
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