return to press room

FROM: Louisiana Gannett News

House backs moving juveniles at Swanson

BATON ROUGE - The Louisiana House of Representatives voted Monday to close the Swanson Correctional Center in Tallulah as a juvenile facility, but the legislation differs significantly from a Senate version approved in mid-May.

The House version orders all juveniles removed by Dec. 31, 2004, while the Senate version had a July 1, 2004 deadline.

In addition, the House version allows the governor to extend the closure deadline to May 31, 2005.

The House version, House Bill 2018 by Rep. Mitch Landrieu, D-New Orleans, also makes sweeping changes in the state's juvenile justice system. Chief among the bill's provisions includes creation of a special commission to recommend law changes to the Legislature next spring.

The Landrieu bill also creates a single state entity for children's issues.

The state Department of Corrections is proposing to use the Tallulah juvenile jail to house 17-to-20-year-olds who were convicted as adults and sentenced to five years or less.

Although the age group of the prison population will stay almost the same, the focus will change to education, substance abuse treatment and job training, said Trey Boudreaux, assistant secretary of the Department of Corrections.

Swanson will become the new home of the Youthful Offender Program now stationed at Dixon Correctional Institute at Jackson, Boudreaux said.

The nationally recognized program will be expanded from 50 beds to 320 beds when the move from Jackson to Tallulah is completed.

The program concentrates on helping offenders earn an alternative high school diploma and learn job skills so they can make a better transition back into society.

Boudreaux said that since Swanson will become an adult facility, fewer guards and other prison staff are needed. Federal requirements call for higher guard-per-inmate ratios in juvenile facilities.

In mid-May, the state Senate approved a bill that orders the state to remove all juveniles from the Tallulah facility, but left it up to the state to find a use for the building. The Senate version would not require the facility to be used as a prison.

An amendment to Landrieu's bill by Rep. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, would keep some of the savings in poverty-stricken northeastern Louisiana.

The Thompson amendment would require at least 40 percent of the savings to be invested in community-based care for juveniles in the Delta region, Boudreaux said. Community-based programs keep juveniles in their home areas rather than shipping them off to prisons.

Thompson presented his amendment as saving jobs in the Delta.

"This is one of the most depressed areas in the entire nation," Thompson said. "These jobs are important."

He pointed out that since the state is obligated to make payments on the facility, "it would be foolish, financially, for us to close it."

By contract with the private owners, the state is obligated to pay $3.2 million a year on the debt for construction costs. In addition, if the facility were mothballed, the annual maintenance costs would be at least an additional $200,000.

Boudreaux said Thompson's amendment minimizes the potential job loss in the area. The new jobs would include teachers, substance abuse specialists and staff for group homes and day treatment facilities in the region.

Landrieu got the House to remove a controversial part of the bill that called for a risk review panel to decide which juveniles should be released from facilities. Instead, the bill now calls for sentencing judges to make that decision.

The bill also calls for more probation and parole officers and social workers to help young offenders before and after their release.

The House and Senate leaders in juvenile justice reform have until the session ends on June 23 to work out difference in the bills.



return to press room