Assumption’s new juvenile detention center may open by July 1

The multiparish agency tasked with taking over operations of the St. James Youth Center continues to hope that officials in Assumption Parish can have a new juvenile detention facility ready by July 1.

The St. James Youth Center Multijurisdictional Commission, which consists of representatives from eight parishes, met Friday morning to hear an update on the Assumption Parish efforts.

Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack was unable to attend the meeting, but he spoke on the phone with Eric Deroche, St. James Parish’s director of emergency preparedness, and Deroche relayed details from that conversation with the eight members of the commission in attendance Friday.

Deroche said Assumption Parish officials are working with the Louisiana Juvenile Detention Association to write policies for the new juvenile detention facility, which actually will be converted from the current Assumption Parish Detention Center in Napoleonville. A new adult detention center is being constructed next to the present location, and the new facility is expected to be open by June, Deroche said.

St. James Parish intends to stop operating its youth detention facility on June 30 due to new regulations enacted last year by the state Legislature. As of July 1, all juvenile detention centers in the state must be licensed by the state Department of Children and Family Services, also known as DCFS, and Deroche said it wasn’t cost-effective for St. James to pursue licensing at its facility.

Trey Williams, a DCFS spokesman, said that department officials are assisting Assumption Parish officials, but that DCFS hasn’t received an application from the parish for a juvenile detention center license. He said DCFS officials went on a walkthrough at the facility recently and are consulting with parish officials on their plan.

“We’re working with them under the assumption they are planning to file for a license,” Williams said. “We can’t move much further until we get that application.”

Deroche admitted that Assumption Parish officials are running into some of the “same issues we have here in St. James” as far as needing to request waivers on certain licensing requirements from DCFS.

He said, however, that St. James officials “are making progress,” and that “the June 30 date should be sufficient in order to transfer everything over.”

Should the Assumption Parish facility not be ready on time, St. James Parish President Timmy Roussel said, DCFS may allow the St. James Youth Center to continue temporary operations without a license until the Assumption facility can take the juvenile offenders.

Williams said DCFS officials would prefer all regulatory issues be corrected prior to licensing, but waivers likely would be available if physical requirements of the building, such as the size of rooms or ceiling heights, can’t be met.

“Those decisions have not been made,” Williams said.

Commissioners asked Deroche about the specifics of the waivers Waguespack was seeking, the expected capacity of the Assumption Parish facility, the expected costs to parishes for each offender and whether the facility will be open to other parishes outside of the eight-parish region.

“I can’t see him turning someone away if he’s got empty beds,” St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin said.

The St. James Youth Center has been operating at or below about 25 percent of its capacity in recent months, officials have said.

“My understanding is (the eight parishes) will be guaranteed a bed,” said 29th Judicial District Judge Michele Morel, who sits on the commission made up of representatives from Ascension, Assumption, Iberville, Pointe Coupee, St. Charles, St. James, St. John the Baptist and West Baton Rouge parishes.

Deroche said he wasn’t sure what the capacity of the new facility would be, though he said it would be able to handle many more than the 12 juveniles who were housed at the St. James Youth Center on Friday.

In addition, Deroche said, the costs at the new facility would be much lower. Officials have estimated the cost to be about $130 per day per juvenile, about $100 less than the cost at the St. James Youth Center.

Because the Assumption facility would be housed next to an adult detention center, Deroche said, there would be duplication of staff and services, such as laundry and medical facilities, that would save money.

“If we could do that here in St. James, cost wouldn’t an issue,” Deroche said.