BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – A bill requiring screening and allowing for alternatives to detention for juvenile offenders in Louisiana is expected to be signed into law this week.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to sign HB 158, also known as Solan’s Law, Thursday. The bill passed with a vote of 37 to one on Sunday.
The law is named in memory of 13-year-old Solan Peterson from Haughton, who took his own life while in custody at Ware Youth Center in February, less than 72 hours after another teen took his life at the same juvenile detention facility.
Solan was sent to the faciity after being arrested at Haughton Middle School for setting a fire in a bathroom. Peterson’s adoptive grandmother Robbin Simmons, said his pediatrician made a suggestion that he be hospitalized so that he could have a complete medical evaluation but instead he was taken to Ware Youth Center, where he remained for nine days before taking his life. The state investigated both deaths and found the facility did not perform the required mental health assessments. They also failed to check on the inmates every 15 minutes. The state also found other violations at the detention center.
In addition to allowing law enforcement to issue a verbal warning to a child believed to have committed a delinquent act, Solan’s Law allows for alternatives to juvenile detention, including being released into their parents’ custody if they promise in writing to bring the child to court when ordered. It also requires screening that takes into account a child’s prior history of delinquency and any “mitigating or aggravating circumstances” when determining whether they need to be detained in a juvenile facility or allowed to participate in an alternative to detention. The law requires this screening to be done before a child is taken to detention, or as soon as possible upon their arrival. The results of the screening must be reported to the court promptly. The screening requirement will go into effect on July 1, 2020.
The law also establishes specifically that “secure detention shall be used only when it is determined to be necessary based on the child’s assessed risk to public safety or to secure the appearance of the child in court.” It also establishes that juvenile detention facilities “shall not be used to detain a child who is alleged to have committed a delinquent act” for any of the following purposes or reasons:
(a) To punish, treat, or rehabilitate the child.
(b) To allow the child’s parent, guardian, or legal custodian to avoid the parent’s, guardian’s, or legal custodian’s legal responsibilities relative to the child.
(c) Solely to satisfy a demand made by a victim, law enforcement, or the community that a child be detained.
(d) To facilitate further interrogation or investigation.
(e) To facilitate further assessment or evaluation.
(f) The unavailability of a more appropriate facility.
Click here to view the final bill.
Robbin Simmons tells NBC 6 the family plans to go to Baton Rouge for the signing.