CAMPAIGN NEWS: PRESS COVERAGE
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FROM: The News-Star (Monroe, LA)
More on Tallulah.
By Jean Gordon, Staff, firstname.lastname@example.org
Officials: Prison is a 'viable facility'
TALLULAH - Warden Hyam F. Guyton Jr. strolled through the 12-foot-high-fenced
corridors that snake through the campus of the Swanson Correctional Center for
Youth-Madison Parish Unit.
On one side of one fence, a group of inmates dressed in yellow, orange,
maroon and green T-shirts walked toward the dining hall.
One young man called out to the warden, who stopped to talk to him. A
chain-link fence separated them.
"I consider myself the father of all the youth here," said Guyton, who was
appointed warden in 2001.
After the state took over SCCY in 1999, new administrators have worked hard
to give the facility - plagued by mismanagement and allegations of prisoner
abuse - a makeover. Though some legislators are lobbying to shut down the
juvenile prison, the warden said the institution is now a model for the state.
Guyton, who insists his staff call the prisoners "youths" rather than
"inmates," said he wants to make sure the young men learn something while they
The prison houses a school with certified teachers and offers GED and
vocational classes in such trades as welding and carpentry.
More than 200 prisoners, ages 14 to 20, are housed at the facility.
Their colored T-shirts are part of a behavioral program called "Youth Care,"
in which inmates earn a different colored shirt for good conduct. The highest
level is a white T-shirt.
Guyton said he has "no idea" why some legislators are pushing to shut down
the juvenile facility.
Sen. Don Cravins, D-Arnaudville, sponsored the bill after constituents
complained about the treatment of their children at SCCY. Mike Michot,
R-Lafayette, and Paulette Irons, D-New Orleans, also sponsored the legislation.
The primary reason for the bill, Cravins said, was the facility's history of
abuse. In a broader sense, however, Cravins believes the state's approach to
juvenile corrections is wrong.
"We have placed too much emphasis on incarceration and not enough on
community-based programs and other alternatives to incarceration," he said.
Cravins was quick to note that young offenders should not be placed back on
the streets as predators. But as it is, he said, the system is not working. The
recidivism rate for juvenile offenders in Louisiana is 60 percent to 70 percent,
according to Cravins. This contrasts with a 10 percent rate in the state of
Missouri, he said, where for 20 years there have been alternative programs of
the sort he would like to see here.
"We are using our juvenile prisons as training grounds for the adult criminal
system," Cravins said. "What we have to do is free up some of the dollars we're
spending on incarceration and put them into alternative programs and treatment."
On May 14, the state Senate voted 36-1 to remove all juveniles from the SCCY
in Tallulah by July 1, 2004.
Since the prison opened in 1994, it has repeatedly been cited for violence.
Allegations of poor conditions, abuse and inadequate educational, medical and
mental health services prompted the U.S. Justice Department to file a civil
rights lawsuit against the state in 1999. The state took over management of the
privately owned prison that year.
The owners - George Fischer of Metairie, James R. Brown of Tallulah and Verdi
Adam of Baton Rouge - got the contract to build and operate the private prison
in 1994-95, during Gov. Edwin Edwards' last administration. Edwards told
investigative auditors he considered Fischer and Brown friends. Through their
company, Trans-American Development Associates, the owners have reaped salaries
and dividends totaling more than $8.7 million between 1996 and 2001.
Since the state takeover, a "zero tolerance" policy has been instituted at
the facility. The policy enables inmates to make free telephone calls to the
state Department of Public Safety and Corrections to report abuse.
Telephones are installed in each dormitory, where metal bunks with tucked-in
blue blankets are lined up in rows.
Warden Johnny Scott said at least two correction officers are assigned to the
dormitories, which house up to 24 inmates each.
Prisoners with behavioral problems are kept in a secure facility, where they
are locked in individual cells at night.
The state takeover also reduced the maximum number of inmates allowed from
600 to 225, said Denise Bottcher of McGlinchey Stafford, the law firm that
represents the state corrections department.
Should the Legislature order all the juveniles removed from the Tallulah
prison, Bottcher said the state plans to turn the facility into a prison for
youths charged as adults.
"We think it's a viable facility," Bottcher said. "The state has invested a
ton of money in turning it around."
Guyton said he is proud of his staff and the changes they have made. He
pointed to the colorful posters that line the walls of the facility's school
buildings and recreation rooms.
"I have to make this place look like a home," Guyton said.
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