Home Part of States Newsroom
Louisiana might tap into state savings to build more juvenile correctional facilities


Louisiana might tap into state savings to build more juvenile correctional facilities

Apr 06, 2024 | 6:00 am ET
By Julie O'Donoghue
Louisiana might tap into state savings to build more juvenile correctional facilities
Louisiana lawmakers are considering tapping into a state savings account to pay for more juvenile justice facilities. (Photo by Julie O'Donoghue/Louisiana Illuminator)

Louisiana legislative leaders are giving thought to withdrawing money from a state savings account to build and refurbish juvenile justice facilities around the state. 

Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, filed legislation this week to allow lawmakers to withdraw up to $400 million from Louisiana’s Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund before July 1, 2025. Juvenile justice campuses would be prioritized if they tap into the money, said House Speaker Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice, and state Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro.

“It would be for one-time expenses, things we need to fund now,” DeVillier said. 

McFarland, who helps build the state budget as House Appropriations Committee chairman, said the state needs to build new juvenile justice facilities or renovate the existing ones in order to provide the appropriate education and services to incarcerated youth.

“My goal in all of this is to provide rehabilitation” to young people, McFarland said. “You cannot do that with the way facilities are today.”

The money could also go to help pay for Gov. Jeff Landry’s new state police troop in New Orleans, adult prison upgrades and Attorney General Liz Murrill’s initiative to take over some criminal prosecutions in New Orleans, Senate President Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, said. 

Tapping the savings account may also allow lawmakers to free up other money for maintenance projects at Louisiana’s public colleges and universities, they said. 

The lawmakers interviewed all agreed any money spent from the state’s savings would not be used to cover ongoing costs, such as pay for state troopers or correctional workers. It would pay for what they called infrastructure. 

Landry’s office has not responded to a question about whether he would support a plan to spend state savings on juvenile justice facilities, but the governor has made public safety his top priority, especially tackling juvenile delinquency. 

Law enforcement officials have also struggled for a few years to find space to house incarcerated  underage children and teenagers. Federal laws require minors to be separated from adults in correctional facilities, making it difficult for sheriffs to house youth alongside adults in jails. 

Many parts of the state don’t have dedicated juvenile detention centers, where incarcerated minors aren’t under the same roof as incarcerated adults and receive educational services.  

Legislators haven’t named specific projects that might benefit from the money, but officials in two regions already had plans to open new juvenile detention centers. Last year, lawmakers created the River Parish Juvenile Justice District and the Acadiana Regional Juvenile Justice District to build and run juvenile justice facilities in those regions.

If the state puts $400 million more into juvenile justice centers and other public safety projects, it could come on top of millions of extra dollars that Landry is already planning to use for law enforcement and the state prison system. The governor’s budget proposal in February included $116.4 million in extra spending for public safety this year.

All of the proposed public safety spending increases  — and the potential $400 million withdrawal from the state savings account — comes at a time when Louisiana is preparing for a large drop off in state revenue.

An automatic sales tax cut comes online on July 1, 2025, driving an estimated revenue loss of $559 million in the 2025-2026 fiscal year and $614 million and $733 million in the two cycles that follow.

Landry and lawmakers could be forced to make large cuts to existing state services, particularly higher education and health care, over that period.  

The anticipated shortfall might also make it harder to convince legislators they should withdraw up to $400 million from the Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund now. Emerson needs two-thirds of lawmakers in the House and the Senate to vote for her proposal to access the money. 

Lawmakers must also tie any withdrawal they make from the fund to an emergency. In this case, Emerson’s legislation states that lawmakers would be taking out the money in conjunction with the governor’s existing emergency declaration for law enforcement staffing shortages

Henry said the $400 million would essentially be a wash in terms of the fund’s balance. Created in 2016, the account has $2.2 billion in it already, and the state will have to automatically deposit around $400 million more into it this year regardless of whether they take any money out.

State law requires money to flow into the trust fund when Louisiana collects significantly higher corporate taxes than expected.