State workers clean up Jetson; to be used as evacuation site

Come Thursday evening, the site of the former Jetson Center for Youth will be ready to absorb the incarcerated population of Bridge City Center for Youth in New Orleans — 132 juveniles — in the event of a hurricane evacuation.

But Jetson’s buildings, including the most recently occupied dormitories, will be empty of nearly everything, save beds and chairs.

Since state officials shuttered the decades-old youth corrections facility in January, ferrying the juveniles in buses to Bridge City and Swanson Center for Youth in Monroe early in the morning on a cold weekend, weeds have been more active than people on the more than 450 acres of land where Jetson sits just off Old Scenic Highway near Baker.

“Nothing goes on here,” said Sean Hamilton, the Office of Juvenile Justice’s assistant secretary, who was among several dozen of the agency’s employees on hand at the campus Wednesday for a two-day cleanup effort.

Sweat-drenched staffers carried mattresses, trash and wall art out of dorms. Some lugged salvageable furniture and equipment to the gymnasium to be recorded as inventory. Some items ended up in trucks, which could be seen leaving the facility stuffed to capacity with state-owned goods.

What the agency doesn’t use at its other facilities will either be sold at auction or put to use by other state agencies, according to the Louisiana Property Assistance Agency, which handles surplus state property.

However, some items were deemed no longer usable. One unlucky printer was heaved into a dumpster.

All that will remain by this weekend will be dormitory beds and some other seating options — furniture that would be used only in the event Bridge City must be evacuated, Hamilton said.

While the practical purpose of the cleanup served as necessary hurricane preparation and an opportunity for repurposing of state furniture, the effort also could be seen as another nail in the coffin of Jetson’s current buildings.

“OJJ has no plans to repopulate the current Jetson facility,” Jerel Giarrusso, OJJ’s spokeswoman, said in a statement. “We are working to construct a new facility on the property at Jetson.”

Hamilton, second-in-command to Mary Livers, OJJ’s deputy secretary, said the agency is discussing the possibility of opening up a new facility at Jetson more in line with its mission of therapeutic care.

“You had to do a lot to make it look like it was conducive for (therapeutic) treatment,” Hamilton said.

The state closed Jetson partly because its structural setup did not fit the therapeutic method of treating delinquent teens the agency began using in the 2000s called the Louisiana Model for Secure Care. The facility also had problems retaining staff and training new staff, Livers has said.

If a new facility is built, perimeter fences wrapped with razor-wire would be replaced with arched fences, which curve inward toward the facility to prevent climbing. The dorms would be smaller, and none would have individual rooms for kids, as the dorms now have.

A new facility also would be built along the standards of the Prison Rape Elimination Act. PREA was the impetus years ago in some Jetson dormitory bathrooms for doors on toilet stalls and curtains on shower stalls, Hamilton said.

In addition to Bridge City and the two Swanson facilities, which are Louisiana’s only juvenile secure care campuses in operation, a fourth facility — Acadiana Center for Youth — is set for an August ground-breaking ceremony in Bunkie, said Beth Touchet-Morgan, OJJ’s deputy assistant secretary.

But before the Bunkie institute can open, construction crews must notch many hours of manual labor — a form of work both Touchet-Morgan and Hamilton said they would be busy with Wednesday afternoon at the cleanup.

“You can’t expect your staff to do something you’re not doing yourself,” Hamilton said.

Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter, @_BenWallace.