New legislation creates River Parishes Juvenile Justice District

Published 3:53 pm Saturday, June 24, 2023

BATON ROUGE — A bill sponsored by Louisiana Rep. Greg Miller has been signed into law in an effort to address the lack of local facilities to house and rehabilitate children who enter the juvenile justice system.

HB 359, now known as Act No. 145, creates a River Parishes Juvenile Justice District comprised of stakeholders from St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, St. James, Ascension and Assumption parishes.

Rep. Greg Miller

According to the text of the house bill, the purpose of the commission is to “assist and afford opportunities to children who enter the juvenile justice system, or who are children in need of care or supervision, to become productive, law-abiding citizens of the community, parish and state by the establishment of rehabilitative programs within a structured environment.”

Miller said additional juvenile detention facilities are needed in the River Region to provide services including education, psychological services and drug counseling to youth who have fallen down the wrong path.

“We have a lot of problems with juvenile crime, and we don’t have the places to hold them to keep residents safe. We don’t have a place that gives proper care and treatment,” Miller said. “Several years ago, when we raised the age for certain crimes (for juveniles to be tried as adults), I believe we put the cart in front of the horse. We should have already had the facilities in place because we have a lot of restrictions on housing of juveniles. You can’t have any contact between the juveniles and adults, so you have to have separate facilities.”

According to Miller, children in the area have had to be sent to St. Bernard, Terrebonne, or sometimes all the way to Mississippi due to the lack of available beds.

“One, it costs a lot of money to transport these children,” Miller said. “Secondly, they are not being placed close to their families. Most parishes don’t have the resources to build a facility up to the required state and federal standards, much less staff the facility. We are going to pool everything and take a regional approach to do this.”

The River Parishes Juvenile Justice Commission will be comprised of a board of 13 commissioners. Seven of the commissioners will be appointed to four-year terms by the sheriff of the 23rd Judicial District. Two will be appointed by the sheriff of St. Charles Parish, and one will be appointed by the sheriff of St. John Parish. The remaining three commissioners will be appointed by the three district attorneys of the 23rd, 29th, and 40th Judicial Districts. All appointments will be confirmed by the Louisiana Senate.

While the members of the Board of Commissioners shall serve without salary, the law provides for the authorization of a reasonable travel allowance.

The Commission will be tasked with coming up with a budget and a plan to fund the creation of facilities, whether it involves the creation of new buildings or retrofitting existing spaces.

The text of Act No. 145 can be viewed here.