Today, Gov. John Bel Edwards directed Louisiana State Police and The Department of Corrections to immediately provide additional personnel to assist The Office of Juvenile Justice with its staffing shortage at both Bridge City Center for Youth and Swanson Center for Youth in Monroe. Starting Friday evening, correctional and probation and parole officers from DOC will begin augmenting OJJ staff and State Police Troopers will secure the perimeter of the facilities. This comes in direct response to the recent disturbances at both centers. OJJ is also exploring additional short and long term housing options.
“Starting tonight, there will be more manpower on site at both Bridge City and Swanson providing extra security in order to ensure the safety of the youth, staff and the surrounding communities,” said Gov. Edwards. “Our goal is to make certain the unfortunate incidents that recently occurred at both facilities will not be repeated. It is an urgent situation, and this immediate solution will be in place for as long as necessary as we work to put a long term staffing plan in place to ensure the safety of the youth who have been entrusted to our care as well as the staff. We are in conversations about the longer term solution and nothing is off the table. The issues are complex, but chief among them are the lack of employees and the major disrepair of the Bridge City campus. We have been working with Deputy Secretary Bill Sommers to address the issues and will continue to do so. Our commitment has always been to keep the youth secure while supporting their rehabilitation and we have not and will not waiver from that.”
Late Thursday night, 20 youth at Bridge City, ages 16 and 17 years old, got into an altercation outside of their assigned dormitories and overpowered staff. The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Department was called and deployed its SWAT Team. After restoring order, some of the youth involved were immediately transferred to another OJJ secure care facility. The day before, five youth escaped from Bridge City, and all have been recaptured. On Monday, there was a brawl at Swanson Center for Youth in which local law enforcement responded to help regain control of the center.
“I am most appreciative of Gov. Edwards’ assistance, his active leadership, and support as we try to provide the safest and most secure environment in all of our facilities” said OJJ Deputy Sec. Bill Sommers. “We acknowledge that we’re facing some major challenges with staff and with the Bridge City center itself, but we are working every day to address them for the safety of our youth, staff and the outside communities. My team and I are also grateful for our partnerships with the Department of Corrections, Louisiana State Police and other state agencies that stand at the ready to help as we move forward as well as the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office for all of their hard work.”
Act 167, the supplemental bill approved during the 2022 Regular Legislative Session, provides OJJ with $5 million for enhancements that can be accessed immediately so that changes can begin to be implemented. There is additional funding available through Capital Outlay that can also be used for improvements, planning, construction, renovation, acquisition and equipment.
The Office of Juvenile Justice operates four secure care facilities statewide: The Bridge City Center for Youth, Swanson Center for Youth at Monroe, Swanson Center for Youth at Columbia, and Acadiana Center for Youth.