A state judge is suggesting that elected officials, law enforcement authorities and prosecutors from West Baton Rouge, Iberville and Pointe Coupee meet with him and other judges to discuss more cost-effective ways of dealing with young offenders.
Eighteenth Judicial District Judge Alvin Batiste made the recommendation in response to a letter the Pointe Coupee Parish Police Jury sent asking the court to consider less-expensive approaches in dealing with juvenile offenders than locking them up in detention centers.
Jurors say the monthly costs of housing juveniles who have been arrested for criminal behavior is putting additional strain on a parish budget that’s already overstretched.
Juvenile justice is a hot-button issue throughout the Baton Rouge region as the number of youth offenders becomes increasingly disproportionate to the shrinking number of detention centers in the state that are certified to house them.
Many parishes have shuttered their youth detention centers in recent years due to new state mandates requiring they offer services like teachers, social workers and medical care access for offenders, which many couldn't afford.
Teenagers who commit crimes in the 18th Judicial District, which encompasses the parishes of Pointe Coupee, West Baton Rouge and Iberville, are sent to the Lafayette Juvenile Detention Home if they must be locked up. That has cost the Pointe Coupee Police Jury $33,000 between January through Sept. 20, according to the letter jurors sent to the judge.
"We were just asking them to be cognizant of other alternatives (as) opposed to jailing them," Juror Justin Cox said of about the Police Jury's letter to the court.
Cox, who chairs the jury's Finance Committee, saie he’s hopeful the court might rely more on electronic ankle bracelet monitors, which would likely be cheaper than sending youths to the Lafayette facility.
In the written response the Police Jury received this month, Batiste expressed sympathy for the parish's dilemma but also pointed out that judges aren't the only ones with say on what disciplinary action should be meted out to youthful offenders.
"The arresting law enforcement agency in Pointe Coupee Parish normally makes the request that the judge detain the juvenile at the detention home," the judge wrote.
"As you are probably aware, law enforcement officials in Pointe Coupee Parish have tried other alternatives to the detention of juvenile offenders such as GPS ankle monitors and the return of the juvenile to their parent(s), Batiste wrote, "...but have found that in some cases these methods have been unsuccessful in deterring the juvenile from engaging in further criminal conduct."
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Batiste's statement resonates in the city of New Roads, where leaders in April allocated $60,000 to house youth criminals anywhere there's room at juvenile facilities throughout the state because local teens were still committing crimes despite being on house arrest.
Earlier this year, officials in Ascension, Assumption and St. James began lobbying state leaders to consider giving the parishes the authority to open a short-term detention center which they said wouldn't need the expensive services now mandated by the state to operate juvenile facilities.
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Cox agrees with Batiste and thinks it might be time for leaders in West Baton Rouge, Pointe Coupee and Iberville to brainstorm possible solutions as well.
"I'm talking optimistically," he said. "We need to see exactly what we're dealing with; may be we can come up with a plausible cost share option. We just need to come up with something different."