October 29, 2012
It has been a long road for juvenile justice reform in Louisiana. There has been some improvement, but much more needs to be done.
In 2001, the Louisiana Legislature took steps to revitalize the juvenile justice system by creating the Louisiana Juvenile Justice Implementation Commission to develop a plan for reform and serve as a watchdog for progress.
In 2011, the Legislature commissioned a study to evaluate improvements made to the system over the past five years, and to issue recommendations for reform for the next five years.
The Louisiana Models for Change and the LSU Health Sciences Center Institute for Public Health and Justice were asked to perform the study with funding and support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
The JJIC recently heard preliminary study findings and early results are encouraging.
Findings indicate a decline in statewide jurisdictions utilizing costly detention and incarceration for low-risk youth as a means for corrective action. Both the state and several local jurisdictions with their own probation departments have seen decreases in low-risk youth placed on probation. This is attributed to the improvement in using best-practice screening and assessment tools for ensuring the youth who are at high risk to public safety are placed in secure settings and on intensive community supervision, versus youth who are at low risk to public safety but were in need of mental and behavioral health interventions and other services.
The study is also examining the availability and effectiveness of treatment and rehabilitative programs around the state available to youth and families and what data is available to track our successes and challenges as a state. The JJIC will receive the final study results and recommendations by the end of December.
We are fairly certain the final report will show there is still a long road ahead to truly reforming the state’s system to national standards.
Continued progress will be a challenge with the state’s current financial situation; however, it is vital we continue to implement models of reform that effectively hold youth accountable for their actions, provide for their rehabilitation, protect them from harm, increase their life chances and manage the risk they pose to themselves and to public safety.
We will need the support of the governor, the Louisiana Legislature and citizens of Louisiana in this important work.
State Rep. Walt Leger III, chairman
Juvenile Justice Implementation Commission