Local officials attend bill signing for River Parishes Juvenile Justice District

Published 1:03 am Wednesday, July 19, 2023

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BATON ROUGE- Reflecting the broad support and consensus in the criminal justice community for the necessity of a facility in the River Parishes to provide for juveniles awaiting adjudication, local officials from the judiciary, district attorney, and indigent public defenders joined Governor John Bel Edwards on July 11 for the ceremonial signing of Representative Greg Miller’s HB359.

  The new law creates a commission whose purpose is to provide for facilities and related services for children in the juvenile justice system, children in need of care or supervision the River Parishes. The goal is good for everyone involved in the juvenile justice system in the region, Miller and those in attendance said Tuesday.

  Gov. John Bel Edwards symbolically signed the bill into law at the Louisiana State Capitol with Miller, 40th Judicial District Attorney Bridget Dinvaut, 29th JDC Chief Judge Tim Marcel, and District Public Defender Fenwick A. Swann III looking on. All supported the legislation, which was unanimously approved in the House and Senate during the 2023 legislative session.

  HB359, now Act 145, creates the River Parishes Juvenile Justice District to serve St. Charles, St. John, St. James, Assumption and Ascension parishes. Currently, there are no facilities to house or provide services to juveniles in the region, and juveniles facing charges have to be sent to facilities in Terrebonne or St. Bernard parishes, and when those facilities fill up, to Mississippi.

  “This has been a cooperative effort” fueled by “a great need,” Dinvaut said.

Miller said it would be “cost prohibitive for individual parishes” to try to provide housing that meet current federal and state requirements. The River Parishes plan is modeled after the successful Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice District that serves Livingston, St. Helena, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, and Washington parishes.

An important benefit to housing young offenders nearby, Marcel said, is “family involvement in the rehabilitation process,” which can’t happen when they are housed away from their home areas.

  Swann added that besides helping families, it would be “easier for attorneys to visit our clients” to assure their rehabilitation needs are being met.

Gov. Edwards said he was proud to sign the bill.