The state is investigating the pros and cons of building a new juvenile offender facility at the Jetson Center for Youth site near Baker, State Office of Juvenile Justice Deputy Secretary Mary Livers said Thursday.
“Jetson is old. It’s not very therapeutic by nature,” Livers said following the Office of Juvenile Justice’s annual Celebration of Change event at the site.
Jetson, originally built in the late 1940s as a prison for black juveniles, sits on an 832-acre site in Baker, but the state only uses 25 acres of that parcel for the secure care facility.
“It’s a big sprawl here and it may not be the smartest way to operate,” Livers said. “So we are studying if there is a way to replace the facility with a new one and work in a more economical way.”
The state has been working toward reforming the way it handles troubled youths since 2003 when the Legislature approved Act 1225, known as the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2003.
After the law was passed, the state began changing from a correctional model to a therapeutic model for juvenile services, which emphasizes community-based services, positive communication, self-awareness and self-analysis.
Livers said a smaller footprint is more conducive to modern juvenile justice facilities.
There is no timeline at this point for a possible new Jetson facility since the state is just in discussions now, Livers said.
Improvements and reform of Louisiana’s juvenile justice system operations during the last year was one of the main topics of Thursday’s event.
Jetson, one of the state’s three secure care facilities, has been plagued during much of its history with allegations of brutality and abuse against the boys — generally between the ages of 12 and 20 years old — who are serving time there. The situation became so dire that in 2008, the Legislature voted to close it. But by 2009, OJJ had moved forward with its reform effort, including a proposal to make Jetson a smaller, regional facility. As a result, the Legislature voted to keep it open.
Besides changes throughout the last 10 years in increasing the number of inmates who get their GEDs, the state’s three juvenile secure care facilities, which besides Jetson, include Bridge City and Swanson Centers for Youth, teach marketable job skills through vocational education programs, said Johnny Quall OJJ’s regional director for the central and southwestern service area.
In the last year, OJJ also has reconfigured the system’s leadership by creating positions for three regional directors — which includes Quall’s position — who oversee the three state juvenile justice facilities as well as the probation and parole field offices.
OJJ’s Service Coordination Model case management program was recently called an innovative program by Harvard University’s Bright Ideas American government awards program.
The Service Coordination Model program provides consistent and individualized case management and oversight by the same probation and parole officer throughout a teenage ward’s time in the state juvenile system, Quall said.
OJJ officials awarded its third Champion of Juvenile Justice award Thursday to LSU child psychiatrist Dr. Debra DePrato who was given the award for her more than 20 years of juvenile justice work in Louisiana.
DePrato oversaw the system’s health care, dental care and mental health care for the juvenile justice system when LSU’s Health Science Center first partnered with the state to run those services.
The first award was given to Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Kitty Kimball in 2010 and Beauregard Parish District Attorney David W. Burton.
“Dr. Debra DePrato is truly a Champion of Louisiana juvenile justice,” Livers said. “She has dedicated her entire career to improving medical and mental health care for the most vulnerable children in Louisiana. She has given of herself unselfishly and her public service is boundless.”
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