BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards proposed to add dollars to the operational budget for the Office of Juvenile Justice. But that plan is drawing criticism from some at the Capitol Tuesday.
“We can say we want to support them or we want to lock them up in a box,” stated Harvesting Opportunities Outside of Prison Coalition Manager Hesna Bokoum.
Governor Edwards recommended $159 million to go toward the Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) next fiscal year, which would be a nine million dollar jump from this year. Some youth advocate groups pushed back against that increase during Tuesday’s House Appropriation Committee.
“When we directly see a big sticker price for the Office of Juvenile Justice where it can cost $155,000 a year to incarcerate a youth compared to 12k a year to send to the education system. There’s clearly a difference in how much it costs and what we choose to invest in,” said Bokoum.
They even looked to take it a step farther and halt any new youth detention centers from being built.
“We believe there needs to be a moratorium because the services in the treatment of our young people inside of the facilities [aren’t] what the families and young people want. We’re looking for more community-based alternatives,” said Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children Executive Director Gina Womack.
“At a time when we’re decreasing, making a concerted effort to reform our justice system to reduce the number of individuals in adult prisons… [we’re] looking at building additional juvenile detention centers,” added State Representative Jack McFarland.
The call for a moratorium on new buildings comes as State Inspector General Stephen Street conducts an investigation into the OJJ following a number of escapes at youth detention centers.
“The ACY (Acadiana Center for Youth) that you mentioned in Bunkie was one of the facilities that we were taking a look at. But since then we’ve sort of expanded that to look at all of us in the city to try to figure out what the problems are,” he explained.
Louisiana Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said the money is absolutely necessary and would be put to good use.
“We’re in a situation where we have some money this year that we haven’t had in past years. And so with some of these dollars, we’ve made some additional investments,” he said.
The funds would go toward securing these facilities and making upgrades.
“We want to try and help them keep people. They have difficult times keeping employees. At a very difficult work environment and to make some of the improvements to the facilities that have been long overdue,” said Dardenne.
He said the money would also be used to go toward rehabbing the youth.
“Provide them with some educational opportunities and give them some hope as they go forward in their life to not simply become full-time residents of an adult institution,” he said.
Once the allocations are approved by lawmakers, the governor’s budget will go into effect on July 1, the start of Louisiana’s budget year.