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Majority of Louisiana juvenile detention facilities at or near capacity

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(The Center Square) — A recent meeting by the Juvenile Justice Reform Act Implementation Commission revealed that the amount of time served by juvenile offenders has changed little since 2019.

Otha “Curtis” Nelson, the Deputy Secretary of the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice, said at the meeting held in Baton Rouge on Friday that the “comprehension of juvenile justice in the state is not consistent.”

He said after spending time in courtrooms around the state, there are some areas where the focus is more on the punitive while others are focused on a more rehabilitative process.

He also reported that four of the state’s seven secure juvenile detention centers are at or near capacity.

Sen. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans and chairman of the Juvenile Justice Reform Act Implementation Commission, said at the meeting that juvenile justice was one of the most challenging and urgent issues faced by the state.

“Twenty years ago, we as a state didn’t do the proper investment based on the Missouri model,” Duplessis said. “We have to have some difficult conversations and make some difficult decisions on how we view and how we act in the area of juvenile justice, going back to having lawyers in the courtroom who understand the difference between punishment and rehabilitation.”

According to data Nelson shared on children in the custody of the state, there are 364 males in secure care with 368 in nonsecure care. In addition, 16 girls are in secure care and 2,386 are in community-based supervision. There are 35 offenders awaiting secure care and 32 awaiting placement with nonsecure care.

The commission was created by Act 1225, which was signed into law by then-Gov. Mike Foster in 2003.

The commission is scheduled to hold its next meeting Dec. 1.

Last summer, a spate of violent incidents and escapes from the state’s juvenile justice system prompted a plan to transfer some high-risk youth to the state’s infamous Angola State Penitentiary. The architect of that plan, Deputy Secretary for Youth Services William Sommers, later resigned in November.

The plan, after being challenged in court, was upheld by U.S. District Court Judge Shelly Dick in September.

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