History of Swanson Center for Youth at 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. 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.
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 at 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.