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Louisiana expected to open ‘more secure’ juvenile facility in Monroe next month

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Louisiana expected to open ‘more secure’ juvenile facility in Monroe next month

Dec 02, 2023 | 11:00 am ET
By Julie O'Donoghue
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Louisiana expected to open ‘more secure’ juvenile facility in Monroe next month
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Louisiana's Office of Juvenile Justice expects to open a new high-security facility for incarcerated youth in Monroe next month. (Julie O'Donoghue/Louisiana Illuminator)

Louisiana officials expect to move the state’s most disruptive incarcerated youth to a revamped, high-security facility in north Louisiana next month. 

Construction on a new Swanson Center for Youth at Monroe will be finished by the end of the year, and incarcerated youth from other parts of the state will be transferred to the site in January, said Krystal Stevens, executive management adviser for the state Office of Juvenile Justice. 

“We don’t foresee any barriers to the transition of the youth and to the completion of the new facility,” Stevens said Friday at a meeting of the Juvenile Justice Act Implementation Commission. 

Swanson already houses 73 boys and young men, Stevens said, but an additional, new 72-bed facility has been rebuilt to make it harder for young people to escape. Each person incarcerated in this section of Swanson will be housed in an individual room, instead of a dormitory setting where several people bunk together.

Portions of Swanson have been closed since they were destroyed during riots two years ago. The violence at Swanson and Louisiana’s other incarcerated youth facilities prompted legislators to demand tougher security measures at such buildings.

The new Monroe facility is expected to be used for youth who are considered higher risk. It will include the Cypress Unit, an intensive therapeutic program for the system’s most troubled young people. 

When Gov. John Bel Edwards made the controversial decision in 2022 to open a juvenile facility at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola — a maximum-security adult prison — he said the move was only temporary until the high-security facility at Monroe came online. The young people initially placed at Angola would eventually be sent to Monroe, juvenile justice officials said at the time.

A federal judge shut down the Angola juvenile facility in September, finding that its conditions and lack of services violated incarcerated youths’ constitutional rights. The Office of Juvenile Justice now houses some of the young people originally assigned to Angola at a correctional center in Jackson Parish. In an interview Friday, Stevens said it’s expected that the young people at the Jackson Parish location will be moved to the new Monroe building.

The opening of the new Monroe facility will allow the Office of Juvenile Justice to fully implement a “tiered-approach” to incarceration, Stevens said.

For several years, the Office of Juvenile Justice was supposed to make an effort to incarcerate young people in facilities closest to their homes, so it would be easier for their families to visit. Under the tier-system, incarcerated youth will be assigned to facilities based on the perceived risk they pose.

Those deemed the highest-risk will go to Monroe. Moderate-to-low risk youth will be housed at the Acadiana Center for Youth in Bunkie. There are also plans to build a new juvenile justice center for lower-risk youth in Baker on the site of the old Jetson Center

Sen. Heather Cloud, R-Turkey Creek, said she is helping the Office of Juvenile Justice find a location for an intake center that is necessary to make the tier-system work. Youth coming into the system must undergo a risk assessment so they can be placed appropriately, she said.