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FROM: The Associated Press

Juvenile justice reform language hits snag in House committee
The Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Lawmakers grappling with money problems got sidetracked Thursday in a disagreement over words in part of a package of juvenile justice reform legislation.

The House Appropriations Committee rejected an amendment to the budget bill that would have required any dollars saved from the proposed closing of the troubled Tallulah prison to be used only for community-based treatment of juvenile offenders.

A bill to require the prison to shut down has passed the Senate and awaits hearing in a House committee.

Rep. Diane Winston, R-Covington, offered the amendment, saying it was a crucial point of juvenile justice reform in Louisiana and a recommendation of a commission that spent two years looking at ways to lock up fewer teenagers and instead offer more rehabilitation services and programs.

Rep. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, said he wanted to know more about the state's obligations to the prison and the plan to force its closure before he agreed to a plan to use any money from it.

"I'm not opposed to closing a facility, but I think we would all be fooled if we thought we were just going to close a prison and send them all home," he said.

Rep. Jack Smith, D-Franklin, said he worried the wording of the amendment would cause problems with the transition costs the corrections department would have to pay to shut the prison and move the inmates.

Winston said those transition costs were covered by the language.

"Reform is a hard thing to swallow, especially in a bureaucracy that has protected the status quo," she said.

The committee voted 12-5 against the amendment.

They did agree to move $500,000 in the budget to pay for alternative treatment and residential programs for juvenile offenders.

The corrections department has asked for an extra $7 million to expand community-based services for the past few years, but it hasn't ever been approved for the budget, according to House fiscal analysts.



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