Officials are scrambling to re-configure Caddo’s Juvenile Detention Center to prepare for a new law that will kick in next year.
The ‘Raise The Age Act Louisiana’ is sending 17-year -olds back into the juvenile justice system. This two-part effect date will begin in July 2018 and will affect 17-year-olds who commit non-violent crimes. Instead of going to adult jail, they’ll go to juvenile detention.
Laura Fulco the First Assistant District Attorney says, “crimes where people are not injured or force is not used that will be an example of a non-violent felony offender.”
The second phase of the program will be instituted in July 2020, when all 17 year-olds, will be placed in juvenile detention, regardless of whether the committed a violent or not violent crime,
“Crimes where people are injured, people’s lives are in danger, or people are killed,” are an example of violent crimes Fulco said.
But the District Attorney still has power to transfer certain violent crimes committed by 15, 16 and 17 year-olds back to adult court.
Fulco says, “those types of crimes can be anything from first degree murder, second degree murder, certain types of rapes certainly armed robbery.”
But, that leaves the lingering question of how will the Caddo Parish Juvenile Detention Center deal with the additional population.
Clay Walker director of Juvenile Services Caddo Parish says, “roughly 300 children will be coming through in a year and our concern is whether or not we will have the space to handle that, to be able to hold the kids that need to be held.”
The Caddo Parish Juvenile Detention Center has three cell pods, with 24 beds, and houses boys and girls from the ages of 10-to-16 in individual cells.
“Adding 17 year olds will cause a couple of different problems, when we hit 24 kids, we can’t take anymore, and then if another comes, then we literally have to recommend to the judges which child should then be released,” Walker said.
But to build more beds and have additional staffing isn’t an option for this detention center.
Walker say, “to build more beds and to staff, it costs money which is taxes, and so if we are not bringing in more revenue, if we are not raising those taxes, then we will run a 24 bed facility as best as we can.”
The Caddo detention center is the smallest center in similar size cities in Louisiana. Monroe has more than 50-beds in their center.
“It’s a good thing and bad thing.” Walker said, “frankly you don’t want to have the risk of incarcerating kids that don’t need to be, detention should be used for serious public safety cases.”
The center has more than 100 programs to keep the kids from coming back into the center. But the programs are not relevant for the 17 year-olds, they say.
“Everything is mental health and physical health the way you get a kid back on the right track is by providing them normal childhood experiences,” Walker said.
Positive programs are available, and studies prove they are very effective, and save money, but the correct ones for the correct age have to be found.
Walker says, “what you have to do is find the program that works for the kid.”
Legislators believe keeping 17-year-olds out of the adult criminal system will encourage them to not become repeat offenders.