Panel favors reserving 12 beds at youth center for adult court defendants _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- The city council criminal justice committee was briefed on the new Youth Justice Center in Gentilly Wednesday, April 22, 2015..

The New Orleans City Council will soon consider an ordinance that proposes, at least temporarily, to answer the question of where to house juvenile defendants awaiting trial in adult court.

The council’s Criminal Justice Committee voted 5-0 Wednesday to recommend an ordinance that would designate the Youth Study Center “as the appropriate adult facility for the pre-detention of all children.”

The proposed law is sponsored by Councilwoman Susan Guidry with support from Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration.

The ordinance calls for 12 beds to be set aside at the Youth Study Center on Milton Street for juveniles whose cases have been transferred to Criminal District Court for crimes other than murder, aggravated rape or kidnapping. The other 28 beds would be for youths awaiting trial in Juvenile Court.

The ordinance would have the effect of turning the Youth Study Center into two distinct facilities, Guidry said.

The proposed law is the result of Guidry’s work on a nine-member working group, including youth advocates and judges, created by Landrieu to assess the feasibility of removing all pretrial juveniles from Orleans Parish Prison.

City officials and youth advocates have expressed concern that youthful inmates often become victims of violence in OPP. The working group has been meeting since December to figure out how to move youth out of the prison in a way that wouldn’t put a strain on the Youth Study Center’s resources or staff.

“The purpose of the ordinance is to provide as much temporary relief to the situation facing our youth at Orleans Parish Prison as we can right now, while the working group continues to explore permanent methods to remove all children from the prison,” Guidry said. “That work continues. This is merely the first step.”

The long-term goal of moving all children, regardless of the charges against them, out of OPP will likely require the construction of another building at the Youth Study Center site, Guidry said.

YSC Superintendent Glenn Holt said the 40-bed facility now houses 37 youths, 10 of whom have cases pending in Criminal District Court. Those 10 are being housed in what would be the 12-bed unit. There are five more youths at the facility who could be “waved up” to adult court from Juvenile Court, Holt said.

Judges from both courts attending Wednesday’s hearing expressed overall support for the ordinance but questioned how the 40-bed facility would handle an influx of new cases.

Criminal District Court Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier said she would be hesitant to take a space at the YSC away from a Juvenile Court defendant in favor of a juvenile being tried as an adult.

Councilman Jason Williams said he wants to hear from District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro about what the judges said has been a spike in the number of juvenile cases the DA’s Office is shifting to adult court.

City Attorney Sharonda Williams said the working group has been tracking the average population of youths in the Juvenile Court’s jurisdiction and in OPP.

“We’re pretty comfortable that we have enough space to manage the Juvenile Court population and still have (room in) this facility for the transfer youth,” Williams said.

The full council will consider the ordinance next month, Guidry said.