Officials seek answer to juvie detention space problems

By Bonnie Culverhouse

Sometimes when a juvenile commits a crime, it’s one and done. They may go into the courtroom of Judge Sherb Sentell or Judge Stuart McMahen, where they attempt to place them in juvenile detention while awaiting adjudication. According to reports, there is a 70 percent chance once that child or teen spends a couple of nights at Ware Youth Center, they never want to see it again.

But Ware is full … a head in all 32 beds. Then what happens? The kids are returned to the streets, and what kind of signal does that send?

Ware Chief Operating Officer Kenneth said, “It tells the kids it’s OK to do what they did. There won’t be consequences for it.”

In 2014, Ware contracted with the state to fill vacant beds. At that time, DeSoto, Natchitoches, Sabine, Red River and Webster parishes were under that plan, and at that time, Ware had 34 beds.

The state would pay a per diem to help keep the doors open. Then, the state Office of Juvenile Justice canceled the agreement and pulled state kids out of the facility, along with some of the funding.

“We asked the five parishes if they wanted to make up the difference and keep Ware open,” Loftin said. “They chose not to … said they didn’t have the money.”

At that point, Ware contracted with Bossier Parish, who had an outdated “antiquated” youth center.

“They moved their operation from Bossier City to Ware,” he said. “They contracted for 24 beds and we had 34, so we gave each parish 2 beds a piece.”

Loftin retired in 2015, and in 2019 Ware experienced 2 suicides.

“State licensure reduced the bed capacity from 34 beds to 32,” said Loftin, who returned to Ware to offer aid under extenuating circumstances. “Which, math says, the parishes don’t have 2 beds any more. But because Bossier doesn’t always use all those beds, others utilize those beds, and Bossier is fine with that.”

Cost to house a juvenile is around $128 per day. Webster Parish Police Jury pays if the Webster Parish Sheriff’s Office or one of the smaller jurisdictions makes the arrest. According to a WPPJ spokesperson, the smaller towns are asked to pay it, however, they most often call the sheriff’s department to make the arrest and WPPJ ends up with the tab. If Springhill Police make the arrest, City of Springhill pays for it. If Minden Police make the arrest, City of Minden foots the bill.

That cost is going up because earlier in the year, 3 juveniles escaped Ware with the help of a staff member. Loftin said insurance for the facility is being canceled, and he is seeking coverage elsewhere. It will be expensive, although he is unsure how much more cost will be needed for each bed.

Loftin said he is aware that since the legislature raised the juvenile crime age to 17, all the parishes need beds.

“It’s horrible,” he said. “It’s the worst thing the legislature has ever done for juvenile corrections.”

Loftin said the 17-year-olds present a unique group of problems.

“It’s not necessarily the bed space. What happens is, with 15, 16 and 17s, once the juvenile is indicted as an adult, they are put back in the juvenile detention center,” he said. “Once they come back to juvenile detention, they know they’re an adult. They know they have a trial date in the adult court system. 

“They could care less what they do to my staff, the facility or anybody else because nothing they do – besides killing somebody – is going to raise the charge they already have,” Loftin continued.

In 2011, the state took away mace and other defense tools detention centers once used.

“All we have are staff and room restriction,” he said.

Loftin said he knows the judges see the limited bed space, but everyone’s hands are tied.

There is one light at the end of the juvenile bed space tunnel.

There is talk of building another facility on the Ware property in Coushatta that would allow the older juveniles to be separated from the younger ones.

Bossier Parish Police Jury (BPPJ) Administrator Butch Ford said the idea is in the “talking” stage.

“There were discussions earlier this year or late last year to build a new facility to hold 17-year-olds and isolate them from the younger ones,” Ford said. “The older, more violent crime juveniles are difficult to handle.”

Ford said Loftin approached BPPJ about the separate facility.

“We haven’t pulled the trigger on that,” said Ford. “They have enough beds for Bossier, and we are paying a good chunk of funds for them to house them for us.”

Having said that, Ford said BPPJ is willing to help other parishes, if the separate facility comes to fruition, however, the “ball is in Loftin’s court.”

“If they need the separate facility, that is Kenny’s call,” Ford said of Loftin. “Kenny will decide if and when that has to happen, and he will come back to us.”

But Bossier Parish will not be funding the construction.

“He will have to go back to the state and request money to build it,” Ford said. “We like our agreement with Ware. It’s working. They handle all of our cases and farm out to other parishes if there is available space.”

Ford said the parish bumped up their budget by a half million dollars when Loftin approached them for funds to help “shore up” Ware.

“They have enough property to build it, but like everyone, they are having manpower issues,” Ford said. “They don’t have enough people to work. We agreed to pay them more money to help with that situation.”

Ford said BPPJ will go to the state with Loftin and help in anyway they can to secure funds when the Ware head decides it is time.

“I’ve watched this the last six or seven months, and they are having to move some of those kids to Angola,” Ford said. “So, we will help him come up with a plan to seek state dollars.”

And Webster Parish, which needs a minimum of five beds, could be part of that plan.

“I had not heard Webster needs five beds,” Ford said. “Our two parishes work hand-in-hand, and if Webster is in need, we will sit down and work with them to try and resolve the problem.

“If Webster wants to sit down with us and Ware, we will do that,” he continued.

Ware Youth Center near Coushatta.

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