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FROM: The Advocate

House supports plan to end juvenile prison at Tallulah

Advocate staff writer

For a second time, the House voted to convert a juvenile prison in Tallulah to an adult facility, bringing the controversial juvenile jail's days closer to an end.

Senate Bill 963, which passed 97-0 on Thursday, calls for the Swanson Correctional Center for Youth-Madison Parish Unit in Tallulah to be converted to an adult prison by 2005.

The measure is a replica of House Bill 2018, which the House and Senate approved earlier this month and is now in a compromise committee.

"It is identical to the very bill we voted out of here," Rep. Mitch Landrieu, D-New Orleans, said. "Everybody's on board with the bill."

Once the final bill emerges from the conference committee, the House and Senate must approve it before it can go to Gov. Mike Foster for his signature or veto.

SB963 and HB2018 require the state to remove juvenile offenders from Tallulah.

The bill also requires a new commission to set up a new juvenile justice department, which would pull together entities spread among several state departments, including corrections, education and social services.

Currently, the Tallulah facility houses young people convicted in juvenile court who can be held up to their 21st birthday.

The privately run facility at Tallulah, modeled after adult facilities, has a short but marred history:

- A riot broke out almost as soon as it opened.

- A state takeover occurred in 1999.

- Allegations of physical abuse became public.

- Questions arose about the propriety of the contract between the state and builder-manager Trans-American Development Associates Inc.

The primary owners of that company, which will take ownership of the facility once the state pays off the bonds, are George Fischer, a chief of staff, campaign manager and transportation secretary under former Gov. Edwin Edwards; James Brown, son of former Tallulah state Sen. Charles Brown; and Verdi Adam, who had previous business dealings with Fischer.

A 2001 legislative auditor's report showed the owners made nearly $9 million in dividends and salaries since 1995.

The measures that passed the House and Senate underwent some changes; originally, both bills called for outright closing the Tallulah prison.

Both the House and Senate altered that provision at the behest of lawmakers from northeast Louisiana.

Rep. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, amended both measures to require the prison still be used, just not for juveniles.

The final measures also eliminated a risk review panel, which would have reviewed juvenile offenders and recommended them for either release or further imprisonment.



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