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FROM: The Advocate, 4.01.03

Bill would pull youths from prison

The state would no longer house juvenile offenders at the Tallulah prison after Jan. 1 if a bill filed Monday by state Sens. Donald Cravins and Michael Michot becomes law.

Senate Bill 962 would require the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections to place the Tallulah juveniles at other prisons or in community-based programs.

The bill also would require corrections officials to find another use for the prison.

"Nobody wants to let violent criminals back on the street, but this thing has been a nightmare since it started," Cravins, D-Arnaudville, said.

Elijah Lewis, the assistant corrections secretary who oversees its Office of Youth Development, said closing the Tallulah prison would result in overcrowding at the state's juvenile prisons at Baton Rouge, Bridge City and Monroe.

The Tallulah prison, officially called the Swanson Correctional Center for Youth-Madison Campus, houses 128 of its 225 juveniles in high-custody single rooms.

The department is building 72 high-custody single rooms at the Jetson Correctional Center for Youth in East Baton Rouge.

The 97 other juveniles at Tallulah are housed in dorms for its boot-camp, substance-abuse and regular prison programs, Lewis said.

Juvenile reform advocates have been arguing that the state should spend its money on alternative programs rather than prisons.

"When it costs over $55,000 a year -- more than a year at Harvard -- to put a troubled youth in a facility like Tallulah, you know something is very wrong," Michot, R-Lafayette, said in a news release.

An attempt last year to end the state lease of the Tallulah prison was scuttled after bond rating agencies threatened to lower the state's bond rating. That could cost the state millions of dollars in higher interest rates.

"It does us no good to say we are stuck with this facility so we have to keep it open as a juvenile hellhole," Cravins said.

He suggested the state use the prison for adult probation violators.

Corrections Secretary Richard Stalder has said in prior interviews he would like to transform the prison into a transition center providing substance-abuse treatment, basic education and job skills to older juveniles who are soon to be released from state custody.



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