CAMPAIGN NEWS: PRESS COVERAGE
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LOUISIANA JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM:
The Issue: The legislature's task force on juvenile justice the Joint Legislative Juvenile Justice Commission ("JJC") is considering recommendations for reform of Louisiana's juvenile justice system. The bulk of the recommendations of the JJC's ad hoc advisory board and Annie E. Casey Foundation have largely been agreed to be all of the parties, including the need for a comprehensive strategy to reduce delinquency and juvenile crime, the need to utilize a system of graduated sanctions and the increased availability of community based alternatives. The only question facing the state is how we get to a reformed system (is it something that needs to be acted upon quickly or should we take the 2 yeas or so suggested by DOC Secretary Richard Stalder) and what a reformed system looks like (are the youth and resources in an agency that focuses on treatment and rehabilitation, with streamlined services and funding, or does the current structure work and simply need more resources). A majority of the system's stakeholders represented in the ad hoc advisory board agree on the need for a systemic overhaul in the way Louisiana operates its juvenile justice system.
The Louisiana District Attorney's Association ("LDAA"), the Sheriff's Association and the La. Commission on Law Enforcement have, however, noted their opposition to key elements of the reform initiative. While professing to support the reform work, the opposition's targets, if successful, would doom any real opportunity for reform. The focus of the LDAA's opposition seems to be protecting the current administration's juvenile justice policies and practices, even while the system's spokesperson, Sec. Stalder, did not formally object to any of the recommendations except closing a large juvenile facility.
The LDAA has assumed the lead by filing a written opposition. The Sheriff's merely orally noted their agreement with the LDAA's position. Among other recommendations, the LDAA opposes the recommendations of the ad hoc advisory board that call for the removal of youth and funding for youth corrections from the adult corrections department (La. Dept. of Public Safety & Corrections) and the establishment of a single statewide agency responsible for all at-risk and mentally ill youth. Finally, the LDAA opposes the Casey foundation's recommendation that the state close a single youth prison, move 350 non-violent incarcerated youth safely into community programs and use the over $10 million in savings to develop more alternatives to incarceration.
The LDAA claims to support the reform initiative, yet argues that there is a "juvenile justice system" in La. that has only been ineffective to the extent that there have not been enough resources provided to the DOC. They argue that we do not need "dramatic gestures" such as closing a facility or removing youth from adult corrections. In an election year, with the Gov.'s office noting the need to reduce the this year's budget by almost $100 million and warning everyone to expect more cuts in next year's budget, the LDAA argues that the DOC merely needs more money to develop community programs to fix the system.
Such arguments spell the death knell for reform, for there simply is no money for new programs. In addition, after 12 years of operating such programs, running dangerous juvenile prisons and cutting the budget for community based programs to fund prison bed expansion, the current DOC administration has proven incapable of effectively utilizing scarce tax dollars. The JJC and legislature must exercise leadership and discount the opposition's scare tactics, and adopt the ad hoc advisory board and Casey recommendations in full.
--Since 1995, when Human Rights Watch found that guards in Louisiana's juvenile prisons physically abused youth and that the facilities were modeled after adult prisons, Louisiana's juvenile justice system has stood out as one of the nation's worst. In spite of the current administration's public comments to the contrary, Louisiana's facilities remain violent and dangerous for youth, with an average of 500 injuries a month to youth due to violence.
--Common sense tells us what the statistics on recidivism indicate: Louisiana juvenile system is ineffective, with over 70% of youth released from secure care in 1994 committing another crime, 1815 of those as adults. Simply put, by placing delinquent youth in violent facilities that do little to treat and rehabilitate, our current juvenile system creates less public safety, not more.
--Not only is our current juvenile justice system ineffective, it is expensive. It costs $157 a day - $57,305 a year - to incarcerate a delinquent juvenile in DOC's juvenile prisons. Overall, Louisiana spends $89 million a year on secure care, more than any other state expenditure for youth. In contrast, La. spends $5,804 annually per pupil in our schools.
--Over 75% of the youth incarcerated in La.'s youth prisons are locked up for non-violent offenses. States with true juvenile justice systems, with graduated sanctions and sufficient alternative programs, place non-violent youth in community programs that are far less expensive and far more effective. For example, the Casey Foundation estimates that placing only 350 non-violent youth in programs like day treatment ($60 a day) and trackers ($15 a day) can save the state between $10-18 million if we close a facility.
The bottom line is that Louisiana's juvenile justice system is in a state of crisis, with hundreds of young men and women suffering needlessly and receiving ineffective "treatment" in adult-like prisons. We cannot afford our current ineffective, inhumane system and that any reform effort is doomed without realizing some savings from the current system.
--Formed at the behest of the Chief Justice in 2001, the JJC began with wide support and a mandate for reform. The recommendations of the ad hoc advisory board were drafted with all of the system's principals at the table, including the sheriffs, the District Attorneys and the Department of Corrections. The LDAA's minority report represents the views of a small part of the advisory board, with advocates, juvenile judges and the vast majority of the system's stakeholders approving of all of recommendations.
--The JJC contracted with the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Strategic Consulting Group, a project of the nation's premier youth advocacy foundation that applies business models to juvenile justice systems. The Casey Foundation brings decades of research and technical assistance and expertise to the table. Therefore the JJC is presented with recommendations that are supported by both the majority of principals in the juvenile justice system and decades of research and common sense.
--The only opposition to the recommendations comes from the District Attorney's Association, the Sheriff's Association and the La. Commission of Law Enforcement. Even though all groups participated in the ad hoc advisory board process, these groups object to critical aspects of the reform recommendations. Each group claims to support reform, but neither wants to concede any "turf" and is fighting to protect the status quo.
--Closing a facility is absolutely necessary if we are to gain any resources for the system reform that is so desperately needed. While Secretary Stalder "announced" that he is reducing the juvenile prison capacity by 310, he refuses to maximize the potential fiscal savings by closing a facility. There is no question that if a facility is targeted for closure, Tallulah is the most likely to close due to the fact that we merely rent rather than own the facility. What special interests and turf is Secretary Stalder protecting by keeping Tallulah open?
--Removing all of the youth and money from the three agencies that deal with at risk youth DSS, DHH and DOC will reduce bureaucracy by reducing the management and supervisory capacity from the 3 agencies to 1 single agency and improve coordination and communication that is now non-existent between the agencies. In addition, and critically, it will remove children from the adult-penal model permeating the DOC. If we are to have any hope of truly treating and rehabilitating our delinquent youth, it will not be by subjecting them to harsh adult prison-like conditions.
Urge members of the JJC to vote to acknowledge both the urgent need for reform and the LDAA's critical role in the effort. Rather than allow the LDAA and the minority to inhibit the state's efforts, encourage the JJC to vote to adopt the ad hoc advisory board's recommendations in full and work with our partners in law enforcement as we proceed with real reform this legislative session.
 The LCLE, while filing an opposition, only opposes the JJC's recommendation that federal funding for juvenile justice programs, which currently are controlled by the LCLE, be placed with other juvenile justice funding and be appropriated based on performance and outcome based indicators.
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