ASSUMPTION PARISH, LA (WAFB) - A risk taken by the sheriff in Assumption Parish has turned into a golden opportunity. When the St. James Youth Detention Center closed its doors on July 1, 2013 it left some leaders in surrounding parishes scrambling to find a place to house juveniles.
Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack was up to the challenge.
There's a huge transformation underway at the Assumption Parish Detention Center. Juveniles now walk the grounds that once housed adult inmates. When those prisoners moved to the new prison, Sheriff Waguespack opened the old facility to juvenile offenders across the state. He said the new commitment came with a unique set of challenges.
"The adult population is easy in my book. It's a work in progress with these guys every day," Waguespack said.
Sheriff Waguespack reported, in three months, he has gone from housing seven juveniles to roughly 55 on any given day. The facility can hold anywhere between 80 to 90 prisoners. But, he said before he doubles his current population he needs to grow his staff to closely monitor its residents.
"These are not kids who are not just suspended or expelled from school. They're committing real crimes on the street," Waguespack said.
The detention center has a classroom with a small library and computers to facilitate learning while the kids are away from the traditional school setting.
Education Coordinator, Lee Meyer, keeps them plugged into their school curriculum by using a virtual program called ED Genuity. The students are tested and placed at a starting point where they can learn and earn classroom credits.
"Wherever they go to school they can bring that back as a Carnegie unit, or if they're at a 6th grade or elementary school they can bring it back as a credit," Meyer said.
It's a decision the juveniles must make on their own. Sheriff Waguespack believes with the right mentors at the head of the class, the youth will leave on a more positive path.
"It's about finding the right staff, correctional officers who want to be a part of these kids' rehabilitation," Waguespack said.
Assumption Parish charges outside agencies $130 per day per juvenile.
Sheriff Waguespack said he's already turned a profit.