Local judge shares ideas concerning juvenile crime and punishment

By Paige Nash

Minden City Judge Sherb Sentell addressed questions about the issue of limited housing for juveniles at the Minister’s Breakfast hosted last week by the City of Minden and a new proactive program he is trying to implement. 

Minden Chief of Police Jared McIver spoke about two prominent gangs in the city – Trained to Step (TTS) and Cold Hearted Steppas (CHS). Even though the Minden Police Department has made progress with eliminating and dispersing these two gangs, they are still present within the community.   

“The issue is housing the juveniles. Judge Sentell is making a push to get more beds and more facilities for juveniles because there really is not much revenue in juvenile justice. He faces the difficult task of having somewhere to put them,” said McIver. “When we make arrests, he has to call down to Ware Facility Center and find out what juveniles we have housed, what their crime is and is it more heinous than the one we have arrested. It’s a revolving door.” 

According to Sentell, the issue with housing arose when the state passed the “Raise the Age” law. As a way to keep 17-year-olds out of adult prison. This legislation phased all 17-year-old offenders into the juvenile justice system.  

“I am a firm believer that 17-year-olds ought to be considered juveniles because their brain is not developed. Philosophically, that is a great idea, but they did not give us a single extra dollar, a single extra jail space and not a single extra probation officer,” said Sentell. “They inundated the system. It was not designed to accommodate 17-year-olds. They have overwhelmed our juvenile justice system.” 

The judge said if an agreement could be reached between the police department, sheriff’s department, the mayor’s office and the police jury, a great alternative would be to have pre-adjudicated jail space. In this case, an offender would only stay detained for a short duration, but in some cases that is enough to make a difference. 

“If I had pre-adjudicated jail space, I could take a kid when they first begin to act up and send them to jail and get their attention. When I can’t do that, they continue to do these things until it’s really really bad and they end up in a gang,” said Sentell.  

According to Sentell, it would be ideal to have those spaces available locally. It would save taxpayers money and eliminate mixing our local kids with more hardened criminals. 

He said, “I am not saying jail is the answer for everybody, but it is another tool that I can use to first get their attention. It is scary when you go down there and sit for a weekend, but I need to do that before they get hardened.” 

Sentell is trying to implement another new program that will be more proactive handling juvenile cases. This new program – Saturday Education Enhancement – will give juveniles who have committed non-violent crimes an opportunity to straighten out their lives before becoming too intertwined or “hardened” by the criminal lifestyle. This program will serve as a substitute for sending them to jail.  

“Many of you are old enough to remember the movie, ‘The Breakfast Club.’ Well, we do not have that anymore. We do not have a Saturday detention,” said Sentell. “The library has agreed that they will let me take the kids and order them to the library on a Saturday morning from 8:30 to 12:30. If they do not go, the chief has agreed that I can have that kid arrested and he will hold him for 24 hours the following weekend and they will still owe me a Saturday. This is another tool I am trying to use to change behavior.” 

Sentell’s main goal is to be more proactive than reactive when it comes to juveniles. He will be having discussions with the Webster Parish School Board and local school principals to let them know that they can also take advantage of this program.