Viewpoint: February 8, 2013

A disturbing study released last week shows Louisiana jails more juvenile inmates with mental health needs than most other states. In fact, the report says nearly 75 percent of juveniles in detention and secure care facilities have some type of mental health disorder, more than one-third considered severe and debilitating.

Experts say putting kids with relatively minor offenses in the same facility as dangerous offenders often leads to more problems. Others argue that kids with mental health issues can be treated more successfully and for less money in the community, as opposed to juvenile detention facilities.

The study will be used as a guide for state lawmakers as they introduce proposed reforms and other legislation affecting the juvenile justice system. But, proponents of reform fear juvenile programs are an easy target when budget cuts occur.

We hope that's not the case. It's too important. Lawmakers need to tackle this problem thoughtfully and strategically, and in doing so, may not only save the state money but may also save lives.