Urgent Message from Caddo Juvenile Judges to Caddo Commission: “Houston, we have a BIG problem on 1 July!”
Response by Commission to Judges: “ We know, but its YOUR problem.”
No, this was not the dialogue at the last Caddo Commission meeting on March 22, but it pretty well sums it up.
Caddo Juvenile Judge Paul Young, joined by Judges Ree Casey and David Matlock, made a detailed presentation to the Commission of the reality, come July 1, of the challenges they will face at the Caddo Juvenile Detention Facility.
On that date, 17-year-old juveniles awaiting case disposition will be housed at the Caddo Juvenile Detention Facility rather than Caddo Correctional Center (CCC). And the very limited capacity of the facility will become a virtual crisis situation.
When constructed the facility had a max population count of 48. A Louisiana Supreme Court decision requiring single bunking of detainees reduced the capacity to 24. The center has 3 pods, each with 8 separate cells and a common area
Young indicated that the parish facility has the smallest capacity of any juvenile detention facility in the South. Not per capita, but smallest period.
Judge Young advised that CCC averages eighteen to twenty-five 17-year-old detainees per day. With the non-jail options available to the juvenile court, Young believes that fifteen will be the average number of 17 years olds at the juvenile detention center.
This means that there will only be room in the inn for nine juveniles under the age of 17. The average number of the juveniles has been twenty-two. Thus, it can be anticipated that on July 1, thirteen to fifteen juveniles whose conduct merits detention will get to stay on the streets.
Judge Young reminded the Commission that public safety is a primary responsibility of the Commission and of the judges themselves.
The juvenile justice center operational costs are funded by a 1957 millage. The Commission has recently provided additional funding to allow for the hiring of additional personnel to work in the pods in anticipation of the 17-year-old detainees.
In a perfect world, the Commission would build 3 new pods, thereby doubling the number of beds for juvenile detainees. The total cost, estimated to be $12 to $14 million, could be paid out of Commission reserves. The rub is the anticipated additional operating cost of $4 million annually.
This year the Commission has budgeted expenses over and above anticipated revenues, i.e. it is operating in the red.
Nonetheless, the Commission’s 2018 budget includes grants of over $1 million dollars to nongovernment organizations. And at the meeting when the juvenile judges made their plea, $50,000 was appropriated to help sponsor the Miss USA pageant.
The Commission is also considering the establishment of a $1 million housing trust for low-income housing.
And Sci-port is asking the Commission for a $2 million loan?
So much for public safety priorities.
The Commission has a tax millage on the November ballot to fund parish parks and recreation.
Its track record before Caddo voters is dismal. The last 4 millages propositions have failed, along with a sales tax rededication.
For some unknown reasons, the Commission is gun shy over the idea of placing a juvenile detention operating millage or actually increase in millage, on the ballot anytime in the near future. Rightly or wrongly a millage for a new juvenile facility could be on the December general election ballot, if not the November primary.
The Commission has shed crocodile tears each time the 17-year-old issue is discussed. To date, only dry hankies have been provided for the juvenile court system.
Come July 1, the eagle will land,–that is 17-year-olds will be at the juvenile center and many under that age that should be there will be on the streets.
The impact on public safety is yet to be determined. And miracles do happen, so hopefully, public safety will not be adversely affected.
The experts are concerned, the Commission is wringing its hands, and the public is without a voice in the sense of a vote on a tax millage. Somehow, someway, there should be a better solution.