Attack at juvenile center spurs calls for change

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wwltv.com

Posted on February 14, 2012 at 8:23 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 14 at 8:41 PM

Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News

BRIDGE CITY, La.-- On the heels of an attack on a juvenile justice specialist, there are new calls for reforming how the state deals with young offenders. The incident last week at the Bridge City Center for Youth involved several male juvenile inmates "manhandling" a female juvenile justice specialist.

It is just the latest troubling incident for a state facility designed to deal with troubled youth. Now, the sheriff of the parish where the center is located said he plans to take his case for reform to the legislature next month.

"When we began to look at the number of incidents that had occurred at that facility over the past year, it's a little bit alarming," said Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand.

Sheriff Normand said between January 2010 and September 2011, the JP Sheriff's Office received 78 calls for service at the facility: 17 of those involved assaults on counselors and five involved inmate on inmate assaults.

Last October, three juveniles escaped from the center raising concerns about staffing and security there.

"The state has got to step up and provide the necessary funding to make sure that these facilities are safe and secure and that's not what's happening at the present time," Sheriff Normand said.

Others see similar issues at the facility.

"I am not surprised, unfortunately, that there continue to be incidents at Bridge City," said Dana Kaplan, who heads up the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana.

Kaplan said cuts to the juvenile justice system threaten to undo reforms the state committed to 10 years ago.

"It's one thing to cut the fat," she said. "It's another thing when we just keep on cutting the bone."

Beyond the funding, Sheriff Normand said there is a lack of consistency with how the state's Juvenile Justice System operates.

One thing he plans to push for in the next legislative session is to make juvenile records public.

"I believe that the public should have right to see how they are progressing through the system," Sheriff Normand said. "I think we need to have the public there to hold the court system accountable. We are seeing more and more violence, by younger and younger offenders, and we need to come to grips with that."

In a statement released after the latest incident at the Center, the Deputy Secretary of the Office of Juvenile Justice said the agency was looking into what happened.

"This is a disgusting act and we have zero tolerance for this type of behavior," said Dr. Mary Livers, OJJ Deputy Secretary. "In order to make sure this never happens again, OJJ swiftly began an internal investigation of the incident utilizing our investigative services team made up of former law enforcement officials."

The three juvenile offenders involved in that incident were arrested and placed back into custody at the Bridge City Center for Youth. 

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