POSTED: Sunday, January 26, 2014 - 9:56pm
UPDATED: Sunday, January 26, 2014 - 9:58pm
BAKER,LA(NBC33) — Officials with the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice explained their decision to relocate 76 residents from Jetson Center for Youth in the middle of the night Sunday. OJJ officials decided to transfer the residents of Jetson to Swanson Center for Youth in Monroe, and Bridge City Center for Youth near New Orleans between midnight and 2:00 a.m. Sunday.
“The physical plant makes it very very difficult for us to continue to move forward with the therapeutic model there. We have better options today at the other two facilities,” Dr. Mary Livers, Dep. Secretary of the Office of Juvenile Justice, said at a press conference Sunday afternoon.
Part of the problem officials say is the size and layout of Jetson's campus.
“We are currently occupying a small part of that campus,” Dr. Livers said. “We are using administrative buildings in the front part of the campus which makes for movement of youth and staff hard to control and monitor.”
Officials say the facility was built in the 1940’s and does not work for the type of care and safety the OJJ wants to provide today.
"We want to be therapeutic. We want a place where kids can get their needs met and change their behaviors. And that prison like setting does not support the direction we are going with reform. "
Officials say they told residents just before the move they were going to be transferred.
“We went into the dormitories and prepared them. They knew they were being transferred. They didn't know a lot until they got there. Then the staff met with them and talked with them about what's going on. We had extra social work staff available extra consolers available. The transition has gone very well,” Dr. Livers said.
Dr. Livers stated residents were not notified before the day of : “to minimize any possible negative reaction that youth might have.”
Parents weren't notified until after their children had been transferred.
“We never notify parents ahead of time that's a security measure. We do try to notify parents as soon as the move is made. In this case, it was pretty late, so we started notifying parents about 6 a.m.,” She said.
Officials say they will work with families to accommodate special visits. Officials are also will to help if distance is a problem for families to visit.
“If transportation becomes an issue our probation and parole staff will assist on transporting families,” Livers said.
When Livers said at the press conference Sunday afternoon employees at Jetson were not told about the move until it was happening.
”It's somewhat disconcerting if you announce a plan to transfer the youth and then the staff. we could count on some of the staff to continue to come to work, but I think it's only natural that some staff may start looking for other jobs,” Livers stated. “We really felt like for the safety of the youth that we needed to do this quickly, and to ensure that we had the proper amount of staffing to supervise youth.”
OJJ officials say there Jetson has 154 employees. Jerel Giarrusso, spokesman for the OJJ, said employees will be on paid leave until their status can be determined.
Officials say they will be taking to Jetson employees over the next few days. Officials say the majority of Jetson's employees will be offered a chance to transfer to other OJJ facilities.
Giarrusso said some staff was on hand Sunday to secure Jetson.
Livers said, “It's not a closure it's a temporary relocation until such time we can figure out what the needs are, and how we can address those needs. It may be that we need a new facility. It may be we need to retrofit the facility to make it a much better and safer place.”
No word on when the decision on what to do next for the facility will be made.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney, Hillar Moore, said he was surprised initially by the move.
“Initially, I was surly surprised that it was being closed down. Knowing the history of that place and the problem that it's had and the age of it after further thought I could see where that would happen,” Moore said. “I guess given the nature of a juvenile facility you really don't want to give a lot of information ahead of time. After reflecting on it it's probably the right way to go about doing it. The initial thought was surly I was surprised.”
”I'm sure there was a legitimate reason for them [the state] wanting to close that facility down. They wouldn’t do that just to close it down,” Moore said.
Moore said the move could make it more difficult to find a place to put juveniles in secure care.
“There are a lot of youthful offenders that cause a lot of problems for public safety and a lot of these people should be in secure care and aren't. This is going to further hamper that situation,” Moore said.
Moore went on to say: “If there are not secure beds to put these kids in they either stay in detention or go back home to parents or families or half way houses.”
Dr. Livers said the move came because OJJ officials felt they could better implement the therapeutic model of care the at other OJJ facilities.
“We feel that we have better options,” Dr. Livers added. “Since 2009, our secure care population has decreased 26 percent. We have opened Swanson Center for Youth at Columbia, and we are about to break ground for the Acadiana Center for Youth in Bunkie. We have available space at our other existing facilities to house the 76 youth from Jetson. Swanson in Monroe has 8 housing units and we have opened 3 additional dorms there. Bridge City has 10 dormitories to accommodate the Jetson youth. In addition, we increased the number of youth in most existing dorms by two – from 12 to 14.”