Judge suggests satellite juvie center is answer to problem

By Paige Nash

Ward I City Judge Sherb Sentell is not backing down from finding a solution to the rising juvenile crimes rates and lack of beds in Webster Parish.  

The latest possible solution involves a satellite center established and operated by Ware Youth Center out of Coushatta. If that comes to fruition, the biggest concern would be where the money would come from to not only initially build the facility but to cover yearly operating expenses. 

“There are a lot of cost saving things that can be done,” said Sentell. “Eight jail spaces for Webster Parish is all we would need for the foreseeable future if we can get it built.” 

Sentell’s main plea was getting the Webster Parish Police Jury on board along with the City of Minden and City of Springhill to share the cost of building the juvenile detention center in the parish and maintaining it.  

He believes that the police jury may have ample opportunity right now to establish this juvenile center while they are currently in the process of building a new women’s prison to be located on Penal Farm Road.  

According to Sentell the biggest cost would come from the dining facility and aid station- both of which could be shared between the women’s facility and possible juvenile facility as long as neither party is within sight or sound of each other at the same time.  

Mixing the women and juveniles would not be an option according to Webster Parish Sheriff Jason Parker. He said, ““I just talked with our insurance this last week and unless it is an absolute emergency, we cannot house juveniles at this women’s facility. They will drop us from insurance.” 

Sentell informed the jury that the Executive Director of Ware Youth center has agreed to establish a satellite office in the parish. The Center is already accredited and insured. He stated that the employees would be hired locally with a minimum of 2 people on location, 24/7.  

Educational expenses would be minimal due to the access of virtual learning now available following the pandemic.  

“I have confirmed that we could put computer monitors in each cell with plexiglass in front of them and then the juveniles can plug into the appropriate classroom. We do not have to have a live teacher. The recurring cost would be a lot less if we do it right and do it in a very thoughtful manner,” said Sentell.  

Sentell suggested attempting to pass a millage to cover the cost of initially building the facility. He believes 1 mil which equals approximately $275,000 would be enough for the build.  

The jury and municipalities are currently paying $310 a day per bed at Ware. The judge ensures that the cost per bed would be significantly lower if the parish was able to establish a facility locally. 

The two beds available to Webster Parish at Ware are currently being occupied by juveniles from Shreveport who stole a vehicle and traveled to Love’s Truck Stop where they attempted to carry out another carjacking. This failed attempt resulted in a nine-year-old girl from Dallas who was traveling to Floridia for a cheer competition being hit by the vehicle and hospitalized in a nearby hospital.  

“If it was an easy problem I wouldn’t be here, but if we can save them as juveniles, we can save hundreds of thousands of dollars by not having to incarcerate them as adults,” said Sentell.  

He requested the police jury form a sub-committee to meet with local law enforcement agencies, administration from Ware Youth Center including Executive Director Scott and building engineers to discuss possible solutions.