St. Charles Herald-Guide

New juvenile jail will keep offenders off streets

Kyle Barnett - June 7, 2013

St. Charles Parish has had a problem for years when it comes to juvenile offenders because the parish does not have beds dedicated solely for children who are jailed for crimes.

Now the parish, in agreement with seven other parishes, is working towards a regional facility that will be based in Assumption Parish and whose costs would be split amongst those involved.

Judge Michele Morel is serving as the secretary of the Juvenile Justice Commission, which is overseeing the creation of the regional detention center.

"We need it, we really need it. The kids need it and we are obviously not the only parish with the problem," Morel said.

As it currently stands, Morel said juvenile offenders are not receiving proper treatment.

"The problem we have right now is they let out a lot of people because there is nowhere to put them. So people who should be held probably arenít, unfortunately," Morel said.

For those currently incarcerated in the system, they are sent to whatever facility has an open bed no matter if it has a reputation for mistreatment or how far away it is.

"Right now I have some children held around Tallulah and Shreveport. Even if they havenít been found adjudicated they are being held. They are being held away from family, away from their parents," Morel said.

Beginning on July 1 that will no longer be the case. That is the date the eight parish consortium has committed to taking over the current Assumption Parish jail, which they will convert into a facility dedicated solely to the special needs of juvenile offenders from the region.

The positives of going in with other parishes include having dedicated space to place juvenile offenders from the parish as well as comprehensive rehabilitation services for the kids. Those services include psychological, medical and dental care as well as an emphasis on education for those who will be held long-term.

"All of that stuff you used to not have. Itís not going to be just a jail now, it is a justice facility. The goal is we donít want to just breed criminals, we want to help," Morel said.

The center will have at least 10 beds that will be held for juveniles from St. Charles Parish. However, in the case that those beds are not filled the center will be able to bring in kids from other parishes to help support the facility.

"We will have first priority at all times on however many beds we are allotted. Now we have all agreed that if somebody else needs a bed or if the state needs a bed weíre not going to ask that it be held empty, that wouldnít make any sense, but we will get first dibs on it," Morel said.

In addition to providing a more rehabilitative rather than a punitive environment, the detention center also aims to cut costs.

Children who are currently staying in the closest juvenile detention facility in St. James Parish cost $230 to house per night. At the new facility, the cost is anticipated to be $130 per night. However, the savings is not the biggest factor for having local control over juvenile detention. Morel said it is more about ensuring children get the care they need so as to not continue to commit crimes.

"We want them to be rehabilitated more before they go somewhere and do something really bad. And kids are kids, kids are moldable. You can mold them and change them and if you can do that for the good then it solves a lot of problems down the road," she said.

While the Assumption Parish facility will help with the parishís current situation, Morel said one day she would like to see St. Charles Parish have its own facility so children can be closer to their support network.

"The ideal situation would be to have one right here in St. Charles Parish. That way family, friends and their own spiritual advisors can see them," she said. "I do think the citizens of the parish would be on board with a facility here."