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FROM: American Press

Reform state juvenile prison system

Advocates for reforming Louisiana's juvenile prison system have met considerable resistance from prison officials.

The nonprofit Annie E. Casey Foundation has proposed creating a new state children's agency and closing one of the state's juvenile prisons.

The foundation said the state should close one of its four juvenile prisons and use the $16 million to $20 million savings to increase alternative programs.

Joseph Liu, a senior associate for the foundation, said 77 percent of the juveniles in state prisons are nonviolent offenders who could be released or transferred to community programs.

State Rep. Mitch Landrieu, D-New Orleans, said the state should focus more on rehabilitating young people rather than punishing them.

Members of the foundation, which has been studying the juvenile corrections system for six months, said that in order to follow that philosophy jurisdiction of the system should be transferred from the Depart-ment of Corrections to a new agency that would oversee other state programs that take minors into custody.

Department Secretary Richard Stalder argued that closing a juvenile prison would overcrowd the three other facilities.

Thirty-sixth Judicial District Attorney David Burton said that an immediate prison closure without alternatives in place might result in a backlash from communities, jeopardizing the reform process.

Yet, the current model is not working, as evidenced by four juvenile prisons in the state that are at or near capacity.

We're not enamored of the idea of creating a new bureaucracy to oversee juvenile justice, but filling up existing prisons or building new ones is not the answer.

The state must change its mindset from punishing nonviolent juveniles to intervening and rehabilitating them before they become repeat offenders and perpetual prisoners.



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