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Incarcerated youth aren't getting the education they need to live outside jail, experts worry

Concerns are growing the youth held at OJJ facilities are not getting the education they need before their release.

JEFFERSON PARISH, La. — Education experts are concerned children at the Bridge City Youth Center and the youth set to be transferred to Angola are not getting the education they're supposed to.

The Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights says the youth at Bridge City are deserving of a formal education, they say Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) is severely lacking in providing them that.

Allison Zimmer, staff attorney at the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights says all children across the state, no matter if they’re in custody or not, are entitled to an education under state law.

“We have kids who go to school one day a week, two days a week with frequently weeks maybe months at a time without school," Zimmer said. "This is something we hear from kids all the time.”

She went on to say, “I Am really concerned about OJJs ability to provide those services.”

RELATED: Juvenile offenders don't belong in Angola, advocates warn

Riverside Alternative School, which is the school inside Bridge City is graded F, according the Department of Education’s school report card.

The agency’s performance score summarizes how well a school is preparing all of its students for the next level of study. Zimmer says nationally, 70% of kids in the juvenile justice system have special education needs.

“Like counseling, psychological services, speech therapy, physical therapy and all of those things are crucial for kids to be able to receive the rehabilitation they need," Zimmer said.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said on Tuesday, at a press conference, youth who are part of the Juvenile Understanding and Managing Problematic Behavior Program also known as JUMP (a program for youth who’ve demonstrated sexual behavior problems) will remain at Bridge City.

The state saying these juveniles represent half of those held at the facility and were not part of the escapes.

RELATED: "We were kind of blindsided by this decision" - Baton Rouge says they're not ready to house juveniles

“We’ve seen OJJ struggle to provide education and fulfill its obligations now with the facilities it currently has," Zimmer said.

She says to prevent youth from re-offending and to prepare them for their release they need educational programs, saying, “If they’re not getting those services they would be getting in the community, then they’re going to return home behind.”

According to the most recent numbers, there were 61 students at Riverside Alternative at Bridge City in 2018-2019.

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