St. James council gets briefing on youth detention center

Ascension Parish has secured nearly two dozen guaranteed juvenile offender beds in a new youth detention center being switched from the Donaldsonville area to Napoleonville by this summer, an official told the St. James Parish Council.

Ridgely Mitchell, confidential assistant to the St. James Parish president, made the scenario public Wednesday during a briefing he delivered to the St. James Parish Council on developments concerning the St. James Youth Center.

St. James Parish government officials have said they will close the detention center — on the west bank of the Mississippi River adjacent to the Sunshine Bridge — on June 30 because of new state regulations that will drive up the cost of operating the facility.

“Come June 1, he’ll have everything in place that needs to be in place,” Mitchell said, referring to Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack. “He’ll be ready to take over the program at the end of June.”

The new youth center, to be housed in a former Assumption Parish adult detention facility converted to fit the needs of juvenile offenders, will be able to house 96 juveniles in single- and double-occupancy rooms, said Eric Deroche, St. James Parish’s director of emergency preparedness.

Council members expressed concern over the distance from the current center’s site to the new site in Assumption Parish — which Mitchell estimated to be about 10 to 12 miles — and also asked if Waguespack would guarantee St. James Parish a certain number of beds for parish juveniles in the new facility.

“I would like to guarantee a few beds because if our kids are put in there, we want something close that the parents will be able to go to and so the Sheriff’s Office won’t have to travel so far,” Councilman Jimmy Brazan said.

Waguespack is “willing to entertain” negotiations to secure a certain number of beds for St. James Parish offenders, Deroche said.

Other council business Wednesday included:

JUSTICE OF THE PEACE: The Parish Council unanimously appointed Vondra Etienne Steib, of Vacherie, to temporarily serve as a justice of the peace for District 6.

The council also called for a special election to fill the vacancy left by Steib’s predecessor, former Justice of the Peace Eileen “Candy” Jasmin, who recently resigned.

The special general election will be held Nov. 16 and, according to state law, Steib will not be allowed to run for the office’s full term, Roussel said.

Jasmin was arrested by the St. James Parish Sheriff’s Office last month on counts of theft, malfeasance in office and issuing worthless checks.