SHREVEPORT, La. -- The people in charge of juvenile justice in Caddo Parish say plans are working to free up space in the crowded detention center.
A new state law introducing 17-year-olds to the juvenile system raised concerns that there wouldn't be enough room in Caddo’s already-crowded Juvenile Detention Center.
Since March 1, all 17-year-olds accused of non-violent crimes have been processed through Louisiana's juvenile system as part of the state's "Raise the Age” law, which is aimed at keeping 17-year-olds away from the dangers of adult jails.
Officials in Caddo Parish don't object to the law, but it's forced them to scramble to free up space in a 24-bed detention center. Proposals to expand the center have been essentially non-starters due to the large burden on taxpayers.
Clay Walker, Caddo’s Director of Juvenile Services, has been a leader in the charge to rearrange and stretch resources to accommodate the new law. He says the efforts are so far paying off.
"We have not been at capacity,” Walker said. “We have not had to have a meeting where we talk about 'We're at 25 (in detention). Which child will be let out?'"
The number of kids going to the detention center is the lowest it’s been in a long time.
This year, 167 were brought in as of April 30th. That compares to 247 by the same time in 2018, and the nine-year average of 317.
According to the Shreveport Police Department and the Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office, juvenile crime is also down, overall. Adding the number of detentions, summons and misdemeanors in 2019 through April 30, both agencies arrested a total of 471 kids. That number stood at 640 at the same point in 2018.
According to Walker, there are other factors at play in the detention decrease, including the expansion of hours at the Misdemeanor Referral Center. The center used to close at 4 p.m. during the week. It now closes at 10 p.m. and operates Saturdays from 2 until 10 p.m. Additionally, Walker said police officers are encouraged to send children home with a summons to appear in court, and only detain if it’s absolutely necessary.
Still, Walker worries the worst is yet to come.
Starting in July 2020, Louisiana’s juvenile system will also have to handle 17-year-olds accused of violent crimes.
"We do not have enough space. We're not prepared for that yet," Walker said.
Walker, Caddo Commissioners and juvenile judges are now sharing their message of concern through public forums, in hopes of bringing an increasingly concerned community together to work toward a solution that is yet to be determined.
"It's a lot that's been going on in the neighborhoods, throughout the community,” said Shreveport resident Lisa Ross at an early May forum. “They bring up what we can do to prevent them, but nothing is put into place."
"I want to know what is going on that's making this be such a big thing right now with the juveniles," said Lucinda Bledsoe at the same forum. "We need help here in Shreveport. Our youths need help here in Shreveport."