“Families will be engaged here”
A new community-based reporting center for local juveniles arrested on nonviolent offenses was inspired in part by Missouri’s widely touted approach toward juvenile justice, a model favoring therapy and family involvement over punishment, city-parish officials said.
“This is really ground breaking,” East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden said at a news conference Monday. “What we are moving toward is implementing the Missouri model into Baton Rouge.”
The center, scheduled to open next week, will serve between 10 and 13 boys at a time in a small building in front of the Juvenile Detention Center on Veterans Memorial Boulevard. The center is designed to resemble a home, and officials said boys assigned to it will have family-style dinners in a safe and comfortable environment.
“The intent is to pull the kids into program compliance, and with youth you have to have something that entices them to keep coming,” said Gail Grover, director of the parish’s Department of Juvenile Services. “We want them to succeed.”
Boys assigned to the facility will be under strict supervision during the evening hours for up to six weeks. To ensure their attendance, they’ll be picked up from school and taken to the facility, where they will receive homework help and participate in recreational programs.
“We’re actually using a recreational therapist,” Grover said. “It’s done with a therapeutic mindset to build competencies in children. It’s not just fun for fun, but fun with a purpose.”
The youth will be dropped off at home after 8 p.m., officials said, as statistics show juveniles are less likely to be arrested after that time. About 77 percent of juvenile arrests last year occurred between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., according to the Department of Juvenile Services.
Authorities will evaluate arrested juveniles on a case by case basis to determine whether placement in the center is appropriate. Grover stressed that violent offenders — those arrested for offenses such as murder, rape and or other violent crimes — will not be eligible.
“We are going after a group of kids that have a little bit of risk, but we are going to put so much supervision in place and support structure around them that they’re successful,” said Deron Patin, the parish’s juvenile detention manager. “They’re going to go home at night and stay with their family instead of staying at a detention facility.”
The new reporting center provides judges a much-needed third option aside from placing juveniles in a detention center or sending them home, said Gail D. Mumford of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a charitable organization that plans to donate several computers to the facility.
Mumford said incarceration should be reserved for the most violent and chronic offenders.
Some local youth have been incarcerated unnecessarily because court officials lacked alternatives, she said,which is counterproductive as research shows nonviolent offenders placed in juvenile detention generally re-offend at a higher rate.
The Missouri model steers away from larger institutions and focuses on helping juveniles to “get back home,” where they’re more likely benefit from family support, Mumford said.
“We’re going to focus on how do we help kids get better as opposed to this old notion of punishment,” Mumford said. “Families will be engaged here.”
East Baton Rouge Parish is one of five Louisiana parishes participating in the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, which focuses on reducing reliance on incarceration, Mumford said. The other parishes participating are Caddo, Calcasieu, Jefferson and Orleans.
Assistant Public Defender Jack Harrison, who practices in Juvenile Court, said the new juvenile center will be a positive resource for the community and for at-risk youth and their families.
“All too often, we see our young clients remaining in secure detention simply because their parents cannot afford to post bond, and not because they pose a high risk to the community,” Harrison said. “As a way to provide close monitoring of these kids while maintaining them in their homes, this reporting center can allow a decrease in the number of indigent youth who would otherwise have to remain in juvenile jail pending their trials.”