COVINGTON, LA (WAFB) - Louisiana judges warned Wednesday that shutting down a juvenile detention facility near Covington could cause long-term problems.
Back in November, voters elected to halt a millage that funds 85 percent of the $7 million budget for the Florida Parishes Juvenile Detention Center. The ballot item would have extended the 3 mills tax for another 10 years, after already being in place for the past two decades. Without that money, the facility will likely have to be shut down.
"If you're not going to vote for the tax, then don't call me when the child is released," said Judge Blair Edwards of the 21st Judicial District Court, who works exclusively with juveniles. "These are not the juveniles that are going to school. These are not the juveniles that are making good grades just slipping up."
The center handles young offenders before and sometimes after they go to trial. Those juveniles come from several area parishes, including Livingston, St. Helena and Tangipahoa. It also services Washington and St. Tammany parishes.
On average, it houses about 60 young individuals who are facing charges that include rape, attempted murder and home invasion. The facility provides services that judges said are important in determining where they go after trial.
"We have a psychological evaluation," one judge stated. "We have drug screening when they come in. It gives us a wealth of information, which we need when we decide what are we going to do with this kid."
If the facility is closed, it would leave the region with nowhere to house young offenders, since they cannot be put into adult facilities. Livingston Parish sent 55 juveniles to the facility between July 2014 and July 2015, according to Lori Steele, spokeswoman for the Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office. The Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office sent 275 juveniles to the facility in 2014. So far this year, the parish has sent 270 juveniles.
"Those children can be released back into the community, back where they are not going to school and where they are not being properly supervised and more crime could occur," said Judge Grace Gasaway of the Hammond City Court.
The other option is sending young offenders away to other regions, but that could only occur if beds are available.
However, moving them far away cuts back on supervision in the Florida Parishes region and creates new costs through transportation needs.
"In order to take care of what we have to do, it costs money. We're going to weigh what is more important to us and how we want to spend our dollars," Gasaway added.
The Wednesday night meeting was merely preliminary. In January, the facility's commission will discuss ways of fixing the monetary shortfall, including possibly putting the same mil proposal on the ballot in April.
The bond commission would have to approve putting any such proposals on the ballot.