Transfers of violent offenders from Bridge City Center for Youth still not underway, lawmakers told

Published: Aug. 8, 2022 at 9:00 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WVUE) - The head of Louisiana’s Office of Juvenile Justice told state senators Monday (Aug. 8) that only one detainee has been moved from the troubled Bridge City Center for Youth, despite multiple escapes from the detention center over the past two months.

Juvenile justice officials said that implementing their proposed tiered system for the placement of violent and non-violent offenders will have to wait until construction on a new facility near Monroe is completed.

Members of a select Senate Committee on Women and Children said when it comes to learning about problems in the state’s juvenile justice system, they need more direct answers.

“The media tells the story. We can’t say it’s not happening, that’s foundational,” said Sen. Heather Cloud (R-Ville Platte).

After repeated breakouts and a riot this year at the Bridge City detention center, the facility’s most violent offenders were supposed to be moved out, transferred to a temporary facility at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola where they would remain segregated from the prison’s adult population in a former welcome center building 1.5 miles away. But OJJ director Bill Sommers said that facility is not yet refurbished and ready to intake the youth population.

Sommers also told lawmakers that staffing problems continue to be an issue hampering the OJJ, which currently has 320 unfilled job openings.

“We have poor retention, but we’ve hired a new staff development director,” Sommers said.

Bridge City’s staff has been bolstered with troopers from the Louisiana State Police and officers from the Department of Probation and Parole. Sommers said that has helped to better secure the facility.

“We’re happy to report suicide attempts and attacks on staff have gone down,” Sommers said.

But lawmakers are making it clear they want more done to separate more violent offenders from the less violent.

“Get them out of there,” said Sen. Cloud.

Juvenile justice officials said vocational programs for youth offenders are improving. They said new programs are being offered in information technology, business management, manufacturing and welding.

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