GONZALES — The Ascension Parish Council backed an agreement Thursday with Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack to send juvenile offenders to a new detention facility opening shortly in Napoleonville.
The council also took a first step in backing a new 1-mill property tax to house the youths and to set aside remaining revenue for possible long-term plans to build Ascension’s own juvenile facility.
A final public hearing and council vote on the tax, which is authorized by statute already and will not require a vote of the people, is likely next month, parish officials said.
The council currently pays for juvenile detention costs out of the general fund and has no dedicated revenue source. The new tax would raise an estimated $950,000 per year.
St. James Parish, another Ascension neighbor and its current juvenile detention provider, is planning to close its facility June 30 in the face of tougher and more expensive state regulations taking effect July 1.
The five-year deal with Waguespack approved by the Parish Council unanimously guarantees 10 beds at a rate of $130 per offender per day for a total annual cost of $456,250, but the parish would also have to pay for extra beds.
Under the deal, the parish would also pay for juveniles’ medications but the sheriff would be responsible for other “normal” medical care.
Councilman Oliver Joseph noted the high cost of the deal, saying it is a good arrangement, but a lot of money for 10 beds.
“This is the best rate around,” Council Chairman Chris Loar responded later, agreeing that the new rate is expensive, “but there is really not a lot of options.”
Ascension had paid the same rate to St. James in recent years but St. James officials were considering major increases had they decided to keep their facility open.
Waguespack is opening his former adult facility and making 84 beds available to Ascension and other parishes that formerly used St. James’ facility. Waguespack is opening a new 80-bed, $1.5 million adult jail next door, paid for with recovery dollars from Hurricane Gustav.
Later in the meeting, as the council introduced the ordinance for the 1-mill tax, Richard Pittman, director of juvenile defender services for the Louisiana Public Defender Board, warned the council to consider its own new juvenile detention facility with “eyes wide open” about its costs.
He said nationwide and statewide trends are to de-emphasize detention for nonviolent juvenile offenders in favor of pre-trial measures at great cost savings.
Pittman said 20-year-old data — the latest he could find — showed a new juvenile facility costs $100,000 per bed to build and $36,000 per bed per year to run. Pittman, who is from Ascension, said the parish now has five violent offenders in detention awaiting trial.
In a separate interview Thursday, Waguespack said the new adult facility is going through a fire inspection Friday and should be licensed and opened next week. Waguespack said he wants to start accepting juveniles at the old facility June 28.
“We’ve got a lot moving parts, but we should be able bring it all together by that time,” he said.