History of Juvenile Justice in Louisiana
Prior to the turn of the 20th century, children and adults with mental health and/or behavioral problems were locked away from the public. In 1910, children as young as seven years old were still being housed in the adult prison system. In the 1900s, juvenile law violators were convicted and sentenced for crimes that would have been punishable by imprisonment had they been adults.
In the early 1900s, advocates began to separate juvenile and adult offenders. The Prison Reform Association of Louisiana attempted to separate juvenile and adult offenders. Act 82 of 1906 enacted the first juvenile court system of Louisiana, which was established in 1908. The new courts were given exclusive jurisdiction in delinquency cases involving children 17 years old and under, except those related to murder, manslaughter and rape.
In the 1970s, the juvenile justice system began to focus on rehabilitation. Deinstitutionalization began as overcrowding surfaced. During this period, Louisiana worked to implement the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, and separated juveniles from adult offenders.
As juvenile crime increased during the 1980s, policy shifted from rehabilitation to public safety in response to a national "get tough" movement. Public safety was a concern during this decade and many youth were tried as adults for serious and violent offenses. Although treatment was still a focus in Louisiana institutions, there was a significant decrease in the emphasis on rehabilitation. Overcrowding occurred in juvenile institutions, causing a shift towards community-based alternatives.
The state gave complete control for committed youth to the Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DPS&C), Youth Services Division, during this decade. In an attempt to make the system more seamless, all juvenile probation, parole and placement programs were transferred to the DPS&C, Office of Youth Development in 1985. In 1989, the state committed to a plan for improved care and treatment of youth in state custody.
In the 1990s, the focus continued on public safety rather than rehabilitation. During this decade, the system served more youth with mental health issues and developmental disabilities, and more serious criminal behavior. The federal government began intense supervision over Louisiana’s juvenile justice system as a result of serious allegations of unconstitutional treatment.
21st Century Juvenile Justice Reform Movement in Louisiana
During the 1990s a great deal of attention was focused on juvenile justice concerns in Louisiana, centered on the state's reliance on secure care, disproportionate minority contact with the juvenile justice system, variances and inconsistencies in sentencing among judges, large industrial-school types of facilities, high recidivism numbers, increasing numbers of young people prosecuted in the adult system, and the fact that Louisiana had the highest juvenile incarceration rate in the country.
Studies by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and other institutes validated these as real concerns. A series of public hearings about Louisiana’s juvenile justice system was held throughout Louisiana in the early years of the new century.
During and following these hearings, Louisiana citizens - advocates, legislators, juvenile justice stakeholders (judges, district attorneys, parents of juvenile justice youth) - became extremely active in stating their concerns and identifying problems with the system. They turned to leaders including Supreme Court Chief Justice Catherine "Kitty" Kimball, Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu and state Senator Don Cravins, Sr. to address their concerns about problems with the juvenile justice system. Many Louisiana leaders visited the state of Missouri and worked with Missouri Division of Youth Services Director Mark Steward and the Casey Foundation over the next few years to create a solid, effective program for young people.
In October 1995 Human Rights Watch issued a critical report after visiting Louisiana’s juvenile secure facilities. OJJ responded to the Human Rights Watch investigational report by developing Project Zero Tolerance (PZT) to ensure the safety of youth in the secure facilities.
In 1996, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) sent independent experts to visit the juvenile correctional facilities. In June 1997 DOJ issued a report of its findings to Governor Mike Foster. In 1998, a lawsuit filed in federal court alleged that conditions and services in the secure care facilities did not meet constitutional standards. The lawsuit alleged that the state failed to provide reasonably safe conditions, adequate educational, medical, dental, mental health, and rehabilitative services. DOJ and the State of Louisiana entered into three separate settlement agreements to address educational services, medical and mental health services, and conditions of confinement.
In November 2003, DOJ visited Bridge City Correctional Center and Swanson Center for Youth-Madison (Tallulah Center for Youth) and found both facilities in compliance. DOJ acknowledged that the agency was in compliance with requirements of the education settlement agreement.
In 2003, the Louisiana Legislature passed Act 1225, which laid the foundation for juvenile justice reform and created the Louisiana Juvenile Justice Implementation Commission to guide and oversee implementation of the reforms. OJJ began to make sweeping reforms in the treatment of youth.
In 2003, lawmakers, judges, and other stakeholders visited the state of Missouri to learn more about their juvenile justice system, which touted low recidivism rates. Louisiana committed to partner with the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Missouri Youth Services Institute (MYSI) to create a secure care model similar to the “Missouri model.”
In 2003, Youth Services began to make sweeping reforms in the treatment of youth, transforming the system from a custodial juvenile justice model to a therapeutic juvenile justice model of care. The agency began focusing on staff and youth relationships in the secure care facilities, created performance-based contracts for residential facilities, and expanded services to prevention and diversion.
In 2004 the reform efforts included OJJ’s separation from the Department of Public Safety and Corrections by executive order, followed by legislation, which codified the separation of Youth Services from DPS&C, in a manner similar to that of the Office of State Police. The Deputy Secretary’s position as agency head of the Office of Juvenile Justice (then known as the Office of Youth Development) was elevated to cabinet level, answering directly to the governor. These actions, together with creation of the Child and Youth Planning Boards in 2004, provided the framework for reform.
In 2004, Bridge City Correctional Center for Youth and Swanson Correctional Center for Youth- Madison (Tallulah) were released from the federal settlement agreement. All provisions pertaining to medical and dental care at the remaining facilities were terminated. On May 26, 2004, the last youth was transferred from Tallulah and that facility was officially closed.
In February and March 2005, the DOJ visited Swanson-Monroe and Jetson Center for Youth near Baton Rouge, and found both facilities in compliance with the remaining components of the settlement agreement.
In May 2006, OJJ was released from federal oversight and the lawsuit was dismissed.
In 2005, OJJ published a five-year strategic plan addressing five initiatives: safety first, family involvement, quality seamless continuum of care, community involvement and partnership, and data driven outcomes. In 2006, OJJ amended the Strategic Plan to include the Service Coordination Model, which involves reforming services for youth as they enter and exit our system in secure care, residential and supervision programs, to better provide stability and meet the needs of youth.
In 2005, as a testament to our progress, Louisiana was selected as a Model for Change site by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
The secure care facilities have been transformed, leading to more positive outcomes for youth. Youth have become more involved in the arts, and participate in restorative justice and vocational education programs. Secure care treatment initiatives include family involvement, strength-based assessment, and building the Individual Service Plan (ISP). OJJ provides excellent medical, dental and mental health treatment in the facilities, in on-site infirmaries.
OJJ has implemented statewide specialized treatment programs including a Mental Health Treatment Unit, a Transitional Mental Health Unit, the Victory Transitional Treatment Unit for youth with serious aggressive behaviors, a dormitory-based and clinic-based sexual offender program, a dormitory-based and clinic-based substance abuse program, a short term program and female secure care programs.
In August 2006, OJJ adopted Safe Crisis Management (SCM) as its "use of force" technique in the secure care facilities. SCM is a therapeutic intervention program utilizing the least restrictive alternative and positive behavioral interventions. SCM replaced the Pressure Point Control Technique (PPCT), a pain compliance method used in adult facilities.
In 2007, OJJ updated the Standard Operating Procedures for contract providers to include more stringent guidelines/qualifications for direct care workers as well as social workers, counselors, therapists and teachers. Use of chemical agents was prohibited. More thorough guidelines were established for the documentation of treatment. Training was conducted for all contract providers.
In August 2008, OJJ adopted the SAVRY (Structured Assessment of Violence Risk in Youth) as the tool to assess all youth adjudicated delinquent and placed in state custody. Research shows that the SAVRY is strongly related to risk for general re-offending and is one of the best predictors of this type of risk. Use of the SAVRY provides for consistent assessment of youths’ risk and needs, allowing OJJ to work with district attorneys, judges and other agencies to place youth according to their needs and risks. OJJ piloted the use of the SAVRY in several regions, implementing it statewide by January 2010.
In 2008, the Louisiana Legislature passed Act 565, changing the name of the agency from the Office of Youth Development to the Office of Juvenile Justice.
Act 565 also mandated closure of Jetson Center for Youth by June 2009. However the next year, legislation allowed Jetson to remain open as a small, regional, therapeutic secure facility. Act 565 also required a recommendation from the agency for creation of three regional youth centers. In response, OJJ proposed creation of regional facilities to serve the Hammond and Acadiana areas. In January 2014, all 76 youth housed at Jetson were relocated to OJJ’s other secure care facilities, and the property was vacated.
OYD ASSISTANT SECRETARY DON WYDRA
In 1991, OYD Assistant Secretary Don Wydra published "Timeline for Change," a comprehensive report on the achievements of the agency since 1984. The report focused on youth and families and was a call for staff to be "agents of change." Mr. Wydra dedicated his life’s work becoming that change agent. He recognized the challenges in balancing public safety, punishment, rehabilitation services and education, focusing on the needs of the youth. Mr. Wydra served as chief of DPS&C’s Juvenile Services section under three governors. Sadly, in 1998, he died of a heart attack at age 56. The Don Wydra Award was created by the Governor’s Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Advisory Board in memory of the long-time public servant whose name was virtually synonymous with juvenile justice in Louisiana.
LOUISIANA'S SECURE CARE FACILITIES
SWANSON CENTER FOR YOUTH IN MONROE
In 1902, legislation authorized the State Penitentiary’s Board of Control to establish an institution for white youth aged 7 – 18. This led to the 1904 Legislative Act 173 that created the State Reform School (also called the Louisiana Training Institute – LTI) for white male juveniles in Monroe. However, funds were not appropriated for the new institution until the 1906 legislative session, which authorized an expenditure of $20,000 over a three year period. Approximately 193 acres of farmland in Ouachita Parish were purchased as the site for the facility.
By 1907 the institution’s first building was constructed, a two story, multi-purpose frame structure with a basement. It accommodated a laundry, machinery, dining room, classrooms, dormitory and bathroom, executive offices and living quarters for the superintendent and his family. Although the exact location is not known, the building was located on the banks of the Ouachita River approximately three miles south of Monroe.
On November 25, 1912, the facility was destroyed by fire and all the records were lost. The school disbanded until 1915 when it re-opened after being moved to the present site. A 1919 record states the superintendent’s home was moved from the original location near the Columbia Road to the present site.
LTI had a farm and truck gardening program that supplied most of the food used by the facility, as well as food for E.A. Conway Charity Hospital, which had been built on LTI property in 1941. Local law enforcement officials would visit to eat home-style meals, and some of the staff received pay in the form of milk, butter and eggs. LTI maintained a number of trades and shops, including carpentry, blacksmithing, plumbing, a bakery, a shoe factory and shoe repair, tailoring, a dairy operation, livestock (cattle and swine) and poultry farming. There was also a filling station and curb market. The boys raised livestock and entered cattle in local fairs, winning ribbons for their endeavors. In 1958, Willow Dormitory was repurposed from its original use as the home for LTI’s bull.
In the early years a successful athletic program evolved, with teams that competed against other groups in the Monroe area. By 1941 the school was accepted into the Louisiana High School Athletic Association with varsity teams in baseball, basketball, football, and track. From the 1950s - 70s, LTI’s Southside High School Pelican football team was a local force to be reckoned with, and the team traveled to play training schools as far away as New Mexico.
As LTI superintendent from 1951 to 1970, A. L. “Red” Swanson initiated many outstanding changes, reforms, projects and ventures. Supt. Swanson was much loved by the staff and the youth. A number of buildings were erected during his administration, including the administration building, a new school, cafeteria, chapel, cottages, machine shop and maintenance shop, a new dairy, barns and two duplex apartments for the staff. Supt. Swanson had the bakery make birthday cakes to celebrate each boy’s birthday. He worked diligently for Southside High School to be accredited by the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges before he retired, and he was influential in helping youth receive scholarships from LSU. A testimonial banquet was given in his honor at the Monroe Civic Center upon his retirement.
In September 1969, the U.S. District Court ordered desegregation of juvenile facilities. Integration began immediately, and the first black students were received at LTI Monroe and 20 white students were transferred to LTI-Baton Rouge (Jetson Center for Youth).
In 1926 the State Industrial School for Girls opened in Ball in rural Rapides Parish. In May 1989, the girls’ facility in Ball closed and the program moved to LTI-Monroe. The girls’ program remained at LTI-Monroe until approximately 1992, when it was transferred to LTI-Baton Rouge.
In 1996 LTI was renamed the A.L. “Red” Swanson Correctional Center for Youth, after the beloved superintendent. In 2006 the word “correctional” was dropped, and the facility is today known as Swanson Center for Youth in Monroe.
Emphasis on large farm operations changed slowly as the use of farm work to rehabilitate youth gave way to counseling and diagnostic assessment. Former farmland is now home to E.A. Conway Hospital. Today, Swanson-Monroe operates as a fully therapeutic facility using OJJ’s LAMOD treatment model.
In May 2013, almost 25 percent of the youth and a number of staff at Swanson-Monroe were transferred to a new satellite facility in the town of Columbia.
SWANSON CENTER FOR YOUTH AT COLUMBIA
In May 2013, the Columbia town of Caldwell Parish welcomed a new friend in a familiar setting, when OJJ opened a small secure care facility for delinquent juvenile males on the site of the former Department of Health and Hospitals’ Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities’ Columbia Community Residential and Employment Services (CCRES). Named Swanson Center for Youth at Columbia, the facility is a satellite of Swanson-Monroe, known today simply as Columbia.
CCRES originally housed residents with developmental disabilities, and served day clients with vocational programming. In 2005, DHH began to comply with the Congressional mandate that individuals with developmental disabilities receive residential services in community-based settings rather than institutions. All clients were transitioned to community-based care with private providers and the facility was closed. The property was transferred from DHH to OJJ in 2010 for use as a secure care center for youth.
Columbia houses 48 youth and has 68 employees, who moved from Swanson-Monroe after extensive renovations to the 10-acre campus, including construction of Louisiana’s first state-of-the-art, 12 foot tall arched barrier no-climb fence around the perimeter.
Columbia provides a therapeutic, moderate secure setting where youth receive treatment services and rehabilitation, utilizing LAMOD, the nationally-acclaimed Louisiana model of therapeutic secure care.
JETSON CENTER FOR YOUTH
Jetson Center for Youth existed for 65 years on Old Scenic Highway, at U.S. Highway 61, near the community of Scotlandville, 13 miles north of Baton Rouge, under several different names.
In 1900, the president of the Louisiana Colored Teachers Association noted the need for a correctional institute for “delinquent and neglected colored youth.” The idea did not gain traction until the 1920s, when civic groups began pressing for such a school. The 1928 Legislature created the institution, but did not appropriate funds. Dr. J.S. Clark, president of Southern University, who had been instrumental in the legislature’s action, persuaded the legislature to establish a school that would be free from penal influence, in which humanitarian methods would be used to prepare boys to live as decent and productive citizens. Finally, the 1948 Legislature created the State Industrial School for Colored Youth, and it was opened on October 1, 1948, with one student and 11 staff.
The name was changed to Louisiana Training Institute – East Baton Rouge, or LTI. It was also known simply as Scotlandville, after the nearby community. In 1995 the facility was renamed the Louis Jetson Correctional Center for Youth, after a noted humanitarian and social activist. In 2005, the word "correctional" was deleted and the facility has since been called Jetson Center for Youth.
The school became co-educational in 1956, and it was desegregated in 1969. The girls’ program was moved several times and was transferred to LTI in 1991. The Jetson girls’ program was closed in 2005.
The 2008 Legislature passed legislation that mandated closure of Jetson by June 2009. As Jetson was downsized in anticipation of closure, the Louisiana therapeutic model for secure care (LAMOD) was implemented for the smaller number of youth, with the goal of transforming the facility from a correctional style youth prison into a modern, therapeutic model. Legislation in 2009 allowed OJJ to permanently downsize Jetson, retain the name, and transform a portion of the property into a smaller, regional facility. Jetson Center for Youth operated as a therapeutic model until the transfer of its residents to OJJ’s other secure care facilities on January 24, 2014.
Agency leaders said the transfer of youth from Jetson was a proactive move that fits into the larger plan for the future. The existing Jetson facility did not fit into the reform efforts or provide youth with a quality treatment environment. The facility had been designed in the 1940s as a correctional style institution for juveniles with dormitory configurations that did not allow for appropriate supervision of youth by staff. Jetson stands on over 400 acres of property, but only a very small area was in use. Routine activities of youth and staff were difficult to control and monitor due to the large size of the property and location of buildings. Agency officials said the transfer of youth from an obsolete and costly physical plant and placement at facilities more suitable for effective implementation of the therapeutic model better ensured the safety of both youth and staff.
The facility is now vacant, and plans call for design and future construction of a state-of-the-art juvenile facility on the property, near the original buildings.
BRIDGE CITY CENTER FOR YOUTH
Nestled at the foot of the Mississippi River levee approximately 13 miles from downtown New Orleans, Bridge City Center for Youth opened in 1972 as Louisiana Training Institute-Bridge City. The Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DPS&C), Youth Services purchased the 25 acre site, which had been used as a convent and home for "wayward girls," to use as a secure facility for males. The facility is named for the town of Bridge City, so named because it is shadowed by the massive Huey P. Long Bridge over the Mississippi River. The ambience harks back to the facility’s origins as a convent, with expansive grounds shaded by massive southern live oaks.
The therapeutic LAMOD treatment model was piloted at Bridge City in 2005, as part of the reform of the juvenile justice system, but the effort was postponed after Hurricane Katrina caused damage to the property that took several months to repair. LAMOD was re-introduced to Bridge City after the staff was stabilized as people returned to the New Orleans area after the storm. In 2007 several new housing units and a dining hall were constructed in line with the therapeutic model. Today, the peaceful, well-manicured home to Louisiana’s model of juvenile justice reform offers a fully therapeutic environment.
GIRLS’ PROGRAMS/WARE YOUTH CENTER INTENSIVE RESIDENTIAL PROGRAM FOR GIRLS
In 1926 the State Industrial School for Girls opened in Ball, in rural Rapides Parish. African-American girls were housed at LTI-Baton Rouge/Jetson Center for Youth, until all facilities were desegregated in 1969. In May 1989 the girls' facility in Ball closed and the program moved to Swanson Center for Youth in Monroe. The girls’ program remained at Swanson for two years, and was transferred to Jetson Center for Youth in 1991.
In response to the juvenile justice reform initiative enacted by the 2003 Legislature, regionalized gender-specific programs were developed for females. The girls’ program at Jetson ended in 2005, when girls were placed in group homes in their communities or contracted facilities around the state.
Today, the girls’ intensive residential program is housed at Ware Youth Center in Coushatta, Red River Parish, which contracts with OJJ to provide services for girls in a state-of-the-art facility constructed specifically for the female population.
TALLULAH AND JENA CORRECTIONAL CENTERS
The Tallulah Correctional Center for Youth (also known as Swanson-Madison) opened in 1994 and was closed in June 2004. In December 1998, Jena Correctional Center for Youth opened its doors, but was closed in June 2001. Both facilities were privately operated rather than state-run. Both facilities were cited by the U.S. Department of Justice, Human Rights Watch, advocacy groups and others, for inhumane treatment of youth and unconstitutional conditions of confinement.
ACADIANA CENTER FOR YOUTH
In August 2014 OJJ broke ground on a new therapeutic treatment center for youth near the town of Bunkie, Avoyelles Parish. Construction is expected to take 18-24 months. The state-of-the-art secure care facility is called Acadiana Center for Youth, and will be Louisiana’s first youth facility built specifically to accommodate LAMOD, the therapeutic treatment model in place in all of OJJ’s facilities.
The facility will house up to 72 youth and employ approximately 99 people. It will primarily serve the south-central region of the state.
Acadiana Center for Youth will comprise nine buildings, including administration, housing units, a gymnasium, a school with classrooms and a vocational-technical area, a kitchen and dining hall and maintenance buildings. Included on the site will be a soccer field and outdoor basketball court. A state-of-the-art, 12 foot tall arched barrier no-climb fence will encircle the perimeter.
Bunkie was chosen after Mayor Mike Robertson and his team proposed a 20-acre site on Hwy. 71.