Juvenile Justice Project of LA & Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children
on the State of
Juvenile Justice Reform in Louisiana
Based on the Treatment Philosophies outlined by the Missouri Division of Youth Services
Humane Environment C-
Youth are viewed as the agency's most important resource. It is the responsibility of the agency to provide a healthy, therapeutic, and
nonjudgmental environment within which change may take place. The uniqueness of each individual youth is recognized and valued.
The basic rights to food, shelter, education, recreation, health care, and counseling provided in a safe environment are fundamental.
At Bridge City, the therapeutic model is reportedly being employed most fully. Youth circle up, and the small population
helps reduce the levels of violence. When there are fights, according to one youth, the manner in which they are dealt
with is “harmonized.” The experiences of youth at Bridge City are markedly different from the other facilities. B
The removal of razor wire from outside the Jetson facility is a very positive example of efforts to shift towards a more
therapeutic, regional model. However, despite downsizing and the transition, problems continue to persist at Jetson. One
youth had to have surgery after both sides of his jaw were broken. While there is currently regular recreation overall, the
over-utilization of lockdown at Winter Unit remains a significant issue. Several youth spend up to 23 hours a day in a cell,
without any outside recreation time. Youth can be held on the critical intervention unit for months and one was recently
released from the Winter dorm after a 2 ½ year stay. C
Violence has been most persistent at Swanson. With a lack of adequate staffing or staff training, many youth within the
past six months have reported feeling scared, with not enough room on protective custody to house them all. Incidents
reported at Swanson have reportedly included youth being stomped on by guards, a broken ankle, staff being hit with a
baseball bat, a youth being choked unconscious, and a youth getting rolled over by a 4-wheeler. At times, youth have
reportedly been put on lockdown for refusing to go to school, when the reason for avoiding school was a fear of fighting
and violence. A recent Bureau of Justice Report found that 16% of youth at Swanson reported being the victim of some
form of sexual abuse. F
Least Restrictive Environment D
The least restrictive environment should be provided to all youth. The movement of a child from his/her home to a more restrictive
setting is considered serious and such movement is evaluated through administrative checks and balances.
Non-violent youth account for 51% of the population currently housed in secure care. Although the percentage of non-
violent offenders who were housed in Louisiana’s secure care facilities was reduced following the passage of Act 1225,
there remain too many youth in state facilities that could be better served in community-based alternatives, were such a
continuum available. The Judicial Review Panel is a heartening sign, and has successfully stepped a number of youth
down into community programs. However, the state budget cuts in 2010 severely impacted programs such as prevention,
mentoring/tracking, and day treatment, which does not bode well for building the continuum of sanctions at the local
level. It costs $348 a day to house a youth in secure care, versus approximately $32 a day to provide intensive community
Group Treatment C
Group treatment is the primary method of providing treatment services within the agency. Behavior is oftentimes seen as a symptom
rather than the problem, and resistance to change is considered, at times, a healthy response to an unhealthy situation. It is believed
that youth behaviors exist for particular reasons, and determining the purpose of the behavior is essential in the treatment process.
At Bridge City, the youth consistently report that the group process is working, and that altercations are usually dealt with
via a “circle up.” At Jetson, all dorms have recently begun traveling together and implementing the group process,
although even when the group process is in place, youth sometimes report that it is not fully a “safe space”. Some youth
report that although encouraged to be honest and express their feelings during group, they can feel attacked or criticized
for their feelings during group. At Swanson, the group process does not meaningfully exist.
A major impediment to full implementation of group treatment is that youth continue to receive disciplinary tickets for a
number of behaviors that can be consistent with youthful behavior. There is also a perceived lack of consistency in how
staff give disciplinary tickets. Youth report receiving tickets, or charges, for activities including horse-playing, talking,
dancing, or having contraband such as cell phones, often procured through staff. Currently, it appears that the largest
numbers of disciplinary tickets and charges are originating at Swanson.
Systems Approach C-
We believe in a systemic approach to the treatment of youth. In this view, individual behaviors are given meaning in consideration of
the context in which they occur. That context includes the individual personality system, the family of origin, the community, and the
greater culture of which a person is a member. Treatment plans and service delivery reflect the systemic approach.
The programs proven most effective for rehabilitating youth, including the evidence-based practices of Multi-Systemic
Therapy and Functional Family Therapy, serve not only the young person but the entire family, recognizing that
children’s behavior stems from their surroundings. With much of LA’s juvenile justice funding spent on residential
programs, youth are treated by themselves rather than as part of their families. When youth return to their homes, they
encounter the same conditions they left and report they are not equipped with the tools to manage their behaviors outside
of an institution. Programs based in the youth’s communities are inherently more likely to be culturally sensitive to the
family’s needs; taking youth out of their communities makes it more difficult to create individual treatment plans that
recognize the meaning behind certain behaviors.
All treatment activities should proceed from a stance that respects the inherent value and potential of every person. A position of
therapeutic neutrality is consistent with the systemic approach and provides the basis to maintain positive regard for people
recognizing that they are more than just their behaviors. Such a stance also recognizes that human processes are reciprocal and
needs seeking and disallows bias, side taking, and blaming.
It is widely recognized that problems at Swanson have resulted from the large size of the facility, the inadequate staffing,
and systemic issues such as reduced programming due to budget cuts. There has been increased fighting as a result, and
many youth report not feeling safe and fearful of violence. Blaming youth for the problems at Swanson by stating that
issues result from the facility having the “worst, most dangerous kids,” as has been offered in testimony before the
Legislature, pins the failure of the systems on the youth, not the institution.
In addition, some youth at Jetson stated that staff cannot see past their charges – that they only define them by what they
did, not who they are. According to one youth, “Fifty percent of staff act like they’re at Angola,” not surprising given that
some staff previously worked as guards in the adult correctional system. One goal of a juvenile justice system is to
prevent youth from becoming involved in the adult system in the first place; however staff at the facilities are quick to
transfer youth to adult parish prison for acting out, rather than addressing the behavior directly.
Family Perspective D
The agency views the family unit as a system and intervenes in ways to keep the system intact and reinforce the influence of the
parents. All services are coordinated with and cognizant of the family role and importance.
In the last two months, the Office of Juvenile Justice has made an attempt to host meetings with families of youth in their
custody throughout the state, as well as worked on a Family Handbook. These efforts are appreciated, in effort to foster
more parental involvement with OJJ and communication to the community. However, sentiment from many families is
that they are insufficiently engaged in the treatment plan for their children. Many parents have not seen their children in a
long period of time, with no transportation provided yet for parents. Two youth at Jetson report having underwent surgery
without their parents being notified, and having to call them up themselves to alert them of the operation after the fact.
Youth also report that their parents are not notified when they are transferred to different facilities and they must notify
them themselves. Notification of changes in treatment are appreciated, in particular when doctors call a parent after a
change in medication, or in particular have sought input. There has not, however, been sufficient discussion of side
effects of medication with parents and little follow up after youth are released. Parents are particularly concerned that
they are notified of changes in medication, but not consulted. Finally, parents express concern that they are given little
support or engagement in aftercare planning, and are often unequipped for children’s return.
Individual Treatment Planning D
Treatment planning is essential to the identification and delivery of services for youth while they are with the DYS. With the
involvement of both the needs, determination of core issues, and strategies designed to assist the youth in dealing with these issues.
Every attempt is made to individualize the student's treatment program. Youth in residential treatment facilities work at an individual
pace and are released from those facilities when it is in the youth's and community's best interest.
While youth receive some assessment and are supposed to come home with aftercare plans and services, a lack of
available re-entry slots results in many youth being cycled out of re-entry plans before adequate completion. Most
significantly, however, the disparity between Missouri and Louisiana is that in Missouri, youth receive indeterminate
sentences, such that they are released upon completion of their treatment plan. This structure provides additional
incentive towards full participation in all programming and allows for release when youth have individually demonstrated
their rehabilitation. Alternately, sentences in Louisiana are fixed, with a number of offenses receiving mandatory
sentences until the youth turns 21. This provides little room for individualized treatment planning, and can leave youth
who have completed all of the available programming to languish in facilities, rather than pursuing employment or higher
education. There is also no incentive for youth to seek out treatment and programming, as success within the facilities
does not necessarily lead to earlier release or increased opportunity.
All programs, services, and personnel must honor and respect the diversity of the youth and families served. Emphasis on diversity
awareness and education is encouraged as an ongoing process.
Efforts have been made to incorporate cultural competency into programming at youth facilities, such as ensuring that
discussions on manhood take into consideration not just gender but also notions of manhood within different ethnic
communities. However, Lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender youth report facing discrimination from staff and other
youth, as well as disparate treatment as a result of their sexual orientation, including different restrictions on clothing and
appearance and the misuse of protective custody. While OJJ has committed to adding LGBT issues to their diversity
policy, the change is not yet in place. Also, though staff members receive annual diversity training, diversity education
and awareness for youth has not been implemented. As a result, youth often report being targeted by other youth because
of their religion or race.
Case Management D
A seamless case management system has been developed to provide the assessment, treatment planning, coordination, monitoring and
evaluation of services. A needs and risk assessment assists the case manager in determining the most appropriate services for the
youth. The assessment takes into account all pertinent factors involving the youth's delinquent history while identifying the general
treatment needs. The case manager serves as the primary advocate for youth and their family.
The SAVRY has been developed as an instrument to determine the appropriate placement for youth in the custody of the
Office of Juvenile Justice, so that they can be placed in an environment that most is most appropriate. While its
implementation has begun in limited sites throughout the state of Louisiana, there is still a year before it will have been
fully implemented state-wide.
In addition, youth express that they feel as though they have an inadequate treatment plan, upon release. While they do
receive some assessment, youth have reported that “I don’t have a plan and that’s why kids don’t succeed”, and that
“They are not setting me up to prosper once I get out.” Due to budget constraints, there are limited re-entry slots in case
management programs for youth being released from facilities, so youth are not receiving the services necessary for
success. Too often, youth are transitioned out of aftercare case management because the slot is needed, not because they
have received sufficient aftercare services.
OVERALL GRADE: D+