Louisiana Legislature signs off on tiered system for convicted juveniles

By: - June 4, 2022 9:01 am
prison corridor

The Louisiana Legislature approved a bill that would separate juveniles convicted of crimes within correctional facilities based on risk factors. For example, someone convicted of a crime of violence would be kept someone found guilty of a property crime. (Canva image)

The Legislature passed a bill that would sort juveniles convicted of crimes into risk categories that could be used to segregate high-risk youth in secure facilities. 

Senate Bill 323, sponsored by state Sen. Heather Cloud, R-Turkey Creek, would require the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections to adopt rules that would sort juveniles into low, medium and high-risk categories based on medical, educational and psychological assessments.

The bill was approved on an 82-11 vote. 

It comes after a series of escapes and violent actions at the state’s youth correctional facilities.

When the bill came up in committee in May, Cloud said that under current policies, a 20-year-old convicted of a violent crime could be sleeping in the same dormitory as a 14-year-old convicted of property crimes.

“As a parent, that should activate us and should greatly concern us,” Cloud said.

The bill was supported by the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice. 

“This is the future of juvenile justice,” William Sommers, deputy secretary of the office said last month. “I believe that this tiered system gives us the ability to classify kids in a safe manner.”

The bill was carried on the House floor by Rep. Daryl Deshotel, R-Hessmer. 

Rep. Michael Echols, R-Monroe, proposed an amendment to the bill that would prohibit facilities within 100 feet of neighborhoods, elementary schools or daycare centers from housing high-risk juveniles. 

Echols was challenged on the amendment by Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, who wanted to know how many facilities met this requirement. Stefanski pointed out that such neighborhoods were abundant throughout the state. 

Echols pointed to a facility in Monroe that was near a school but could not provide any more information about other facilities that fell into that category. Echols withdrew the amendment. 

Discussion of the bill was briefly sidetracked when two Democrats, Reps. Patrick Jefferson of Homer and Sam Jenkins of Shreveport, questioned why an assessment was appropriate for youth in the criminal justice system but not appropriate for youth in schools. 

Moments beforehand, the House killed Senate Bill 256, sponsored by Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, which would require behavioral assessments for students before they are suspended or expelled from school. The bill aimed to discover and mitigate problems that could lead students to crime. 

Jenkins ultimately voted for Cloud’s bill. Jefferson, who carried the bill for Barrow, opposed the measure. 

The bill now goes to the governor for action. 

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Piper Hutchinson
Piper Hutchinson

Piper Hutchinson is a reporting intern for Louisiana Illuminator. She has reported extensively on the Legislature and state government for the LSU Manship News Service and The Reveille, where she was named editor in chief for summer 2022.

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