3 juvenile secure care centers to be built

The state plans to build three new secure-care juvenile facilities, replacing those in Baker and Monroe and building a new one in Bunkie, which would give the state five regional centers to house delinquent youth, the head of the state’s juvenile system said Wednesday.

Construction is set to begin at the Bunkie Center for Youth in June and could take 18-24 months, said Mary Livers, the deputy secretary of the state Office of Juvenile Justice.

Livers said she also plans to build state-of-the-art facilities at the Jetson Center for Youth near Baker and Swanson Center for Youth in Monroe.

Those three secure care centers along with Bridge City Center for Youth in New Orleans and Swanson Center for Youth in Columbia will give the state five regional centers, she said.

At each of the secure care centers, juvenile offenders will be housed and treated using the Louisiana Model, the state’s therapeutic treatment method.

It was implemented statewide in 2006, Livers said, and is based on the highly-respected Missouri Model, which uses therapy and family involvement as opposed to operating a juvenile facility like an adult prison, punishing its juvenile offenders.

Livers said the $2.7 million allocated to the agency in House Bill 2, the state’s capital outlay budget expected to be debated on the House floor Thursday, would allow the agency to begin designing the new Jetson and Swanson facilities. She put no timetable on when Jetson and Swanson will be completed.

Teens will remain housed in Swanson’s old facility during construction of a new facility, Livers said, which is a change from what occurred at Jetson.

With only a handful of state officials in the know, the agency on Jan. 26 closed Jetson, a 65-year-old state juvenile prison in Baker, and moved its 76 juveniles between midnight and 2 a.m.

Livers said the decision to move the teens from Jetson to Swanson and Bridge City was made because of the difficulty of keeping staff levels high at the Baker facility as well as training a new staff.

Livers said the treatment programs at Swanson and Bridge City were working well so the agency decided to send Jetson’s teens there instead of keeping them at Jetson while a new complex is built there.

As of Wednesday, OJJ had 324 youths in its three secure-care facilities in use, Jerel Giarrusso, OJJ spokeswoman. Forty-eight are housed in Columbia, 132 in Bridge City and 144 in Swanson.

Teens in Bridge City and Swanson will be transferred to Bunkie and Jetson when those facilities are completed, Livers said.

She made the comments at the 34th annual Governor’s Conference on Juvenile Justice at the Baton Rouge Marriott Hotel.

Livers told the audience of about 40 during a presentation that the agency has made strides in reforming the state’s juvenile justice system in the last 10 years.

During that presentation, Livers said the state has a 14 percent recidivism rate in the first year after an offender is released from one of its secure care centers and a 30 percent recidivism rate after three years.

Livers said the agency has improved juvenile justice in Louisiana by regionalizing services to keep teens close to their families and assigning the teens a single point of contact within the juvenile justice system, making it easier for them to build a relationship with that person.

The state has worked to reform the way it handles troubled youths, she said, since the Legislature approved Act 1225, known as the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2003.

One teen housed at Bridge City, a 14-year-old from Alexandria named Tyler, said he believes the therapeutic model is working because it helps the youths re-adapt to their community.

He said he used to live in Renaissance Home for Youth in Alexandria, and Bridge City offers more structure and vocational programs to help teens in their post-incarceration lives, including culinary and automotive training.

Follow Ryan Broussard on Twitter @ryanmbroussard.