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Monday, May 22, 2017

RAISE THE AGE

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Act puts pressure on Caddo Juvenile Detention Center

Currently, Louisiana law provides that juveniles who are 17 or older are considered to be “adults” for purposes of criminal prosecution, which means that their cases go to district court. And these juveniles go to the “adult” jail, which in Caddo Parish is Caddo Correctional Center (CCC). Thus, 17-year-olds charged with crimes are housed in the general population of inmates.

Nationwide, 41 states recognize the age of juvenile justice jurisdiction through age 17, not 16, as in Louisiana. Widely accepted behavioral research indicates that, compared to adults, most 17-yearolds are less capable of impulse control, more prone to risky behavior, less able to regulate their emotions, different in their approach to moral reasoning, less able to consider the long-term consequences of their actions, and more susceptible to peer pressure. Additionally, studies had found higher recidivism rates for youth processed through the adult system, even when youth were given probation instead of incarceration.

Last year the Louisiana Legislature increased the jurisdiction of the juvenile courts from 16 to 17, which means criminal offenders under the age of 18 will be prosecuted through the juvenile justice system. (Offenders charged with murder, aggravated rape, rape, armed robbery and aggravated battery are generally prosecuted as “adult” in the district courts and incarcerated at CCC.) This act becomes effective July 1 of next year; so on that date, 17-year-olds will transition from the adult court system to the juvenile system. Caddo Juvenile Justice officials fully support this reform; the implementation of this change is a real challenge.

Due to the standards of the Louisiana Department of Justice, only one inmate can be housed in a cell. Two of the pods are dedicated for male offenders and the other for females. Currently, there is one detention officer assigned to each pod; since the inmates are juveniles, the officer cannot use mace to defend themselves or to break up any fights. Essentially, the only action that the detention officer can take is a “bear hug” of a rowdy offender, and sometimes the officers are injured.

Juvenile officials state that with the increase in age of offenders, there will be more security concerns in the pods, both for the other offenders as well as the detention officers. Thus, it is their recommendation to have two detention officers in each of the three pods beginning in July of next year. Of course, this means more payroll, and that is the rub, especially after the recent defeat of the tax renewal dedicated to the juvenile justice system.

The real problem for the Caddo Juvenile Detention Center is its small number of beds. It has 24 beds for juveniles, and the average daily population is 22. For comparison, other cities with a population comparable to Shreveport are Montgomery, Ala. (52 beds), Jackson,

Miss. (84 beds), Little Rock, Ark. (48 beds), Huntsville, Ala. (48 beds), and Brownsville, Texas (64 beds). Even Lafayette has 10 more beds than Shreveport.

In the perfect world, Caddo would have the funds to build more pods with more cells. An additional 48 beds would have a one-time cost of over $30 million and additional annual operating costs of $7.7 million. Adding 24 new beds would be a one-time cost of over $12 million with additional operating costs of $4.3 million.

A third option is not to add beds but more probation staff, programs and detention officers at an annual $1.4 million a year. The plan that will be recommended to the full Commission by the Juvenile Justice Committee is the cheapest – just adding a detention officer to each pod. The price tag is estimated to be over $500,000 annually.

"This act becomes effective July 1 of next year; so on that date, 17-year-olds will transition from the adult court system to the juvenile system.”

The average inmate population for the past few years at the detention center has been 22, just two shy of the maximum. The average inmate population at CCC under 18 has been over 300 per year; thus, it is anticipated that the Raise The Age Act will push 25 or more offenders each month into the juvenile justice system, which will greatly over-tax the number of available beds for those that have committed serious crimes. (On May 16, CCC had 23 seventeen-year-old inmates, and juvenile detention had 23 offenders.) The options are not good for juvenile officials; housing juveniles in Bossier Parish (which is converting its minimum detention facility to a juvenile detention center) will cost $300 per day plus transportation costs.

Funding the extra detention officers will put additional strain on the Commission’s budget for the next 2017-2018 fiscal year; these additional monies will come from the general tax funds of the Commission. The Commission needs to rein its free-spending habits, such as the $60,000 Independence Bowl contribution, the excessive travel expenses for Washington Mardi Gras and other trips, the now-expanded summer job program, and other “feel good” programs. Seemingly, these would be easy decisions, but the past history of the Commission raises doubts.

John E. Settle, Jr. has been a resident of Shreveport since January 1977. His articles appear regularly in local publications. He can be reached at 742-5513 or e-mail to: john@jsettle.com

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