Louisiana juvenile justice system may not be working

BATON ROUGE – Today, Governor Bobby Jindal unveiled several reforms he will pursue during the upcoming legislative session that will help Louisiana’s at-risk youth and reduce recidivism rates for juveniles and non-violent drug offenders.
The juvenile justice reforms include streamlining the system of care for youth currently in the juvenile justice system and also strengthening programs to help at-risk youth on the front-end so they do not end up in the juvenile justice system. The sentencing reform proposals include moving to more effective community-based alternatives to incarceration – under the supervision of the Department of Corrections – as a way to treat non-violent, non-sex, and non-habitual drug offenders.
On juvenile justice reform, Governor Jindal said, “With these reforms, we can help at-risk youth on the front-end so that they can avoid a future of incarceration and instead become productive members of society. Providing our children with community-based support before they fall through the cracks will go a long way toward strengthening our communities and keeping our kids out of trouble.”
On sentencing reform, Governor Jindal said, “Studies and practices in other states have shown that substance abuse treatment instead of incarceration is a more effective treatment for non-violent, non-sex, non-habitual drug offenders. By enacting these common-sense sentencing reforms, we can provide these types of offenders with the help they need and lower recidivism rates that are costly to the state and our communities.”
Governor Jindal will pursue legislation to refocus and rededicate the Families in Needs of Services (FINS) program with its original mission to care for at-risk youth before they end up on probation or in non-secure or secure care.
The legislation will be authored by Senator Greg Tarver. The FINS program was designed to assist children and families engaged in potentially harmful behavior, and to help mitigate those harmful behaviors before children commit juvenile crimes.
There are currently two variations of the FINS program:
  • Informal FINS: a voluntary intervention program designed to prevent youth from going into the formal juvenile justice system.
  • Formal FINS: initiated by the filing of a petition by the district attorney or any other attorney authorized by the court. Youth are sentenced to an OJJ non-secure, residential facility or placed on probation.
FINS has strayed from its mission of addressing the root causes of non-delinquent behavior, instead advancing at-risk youth through the traditional court system and further into the juvenile justice system. The result has been a higher juvenile incarceration rate, not less criminal behavior.
In 2011, Senator Danny Martiny filed SCR 44 to evaluate the oversight, structure, and use of FINS. The resulting FINS Commission found that there are no clear guidelines governing when a child should be referred to FINS, the legal separation between informal and formal FINS is inadequate, and formal FINS is being overused for non-delinquent offenses that propelled a child into the delinquent system.
Governor Jindal highlighted several examples of how these unclear FINS guidelines can effect at-risk youth and force them into the juvenile justice system:
  • A 10 year old, with the developmental level of a kindergartener, could be referred to informal FINS for talking back to his parents. He could only spend three weeks in the informal FINS system before being referred to formal FINS and ultimately locked up in in jail.
  • A 6 year old who does not make it to school for several days can be referred to informal FINS by his school. If the child does not participate in the services FINS recommends or continues to miss school, that child can be referred to formal FINS and ultimately placed in a residential facility or on probation.
  • A young girl from an abusive and broken home can be referred to formal FINS as a runaway. Although she had never been charged with a delinquent offense, she can be found in contempt by FINS for curfew violations and sentenced to 6 months in jail.
The Governor said, “The bottom line is many of the youth referred to FINS are from broken and abusive homes, have not committed a crime, and need help – not jail time. This needs to change – we need to work with these youth on the front-end to get them the treatment they need to grow up and lead productive, healthy lives. These reforms would prohibit children with “non-criminal” or non-delinquent offenses from being referred to formal FINS and potentially locked up in detention or a residential facility.”
Governor Jindal’s legislation would reform the FINS program, significantly reducing the number of status offender and non-delinquent youth who continue deeper into the juvenile justice system, by:
  • Dividing the formal and informal FINS programs into two separate categories by law.
  • Clarifying in law that informal FINS is a voluntary program.
  • Transitioning non-delinquent status offenses from formal to informal FINS but adding new identification criteria to allow district attorneys to use FINS as a diversion program and in cases when the child poses a risk to him or herself.
OJJ will maintain the ability to supervise and take into custody delinquent offenders, including violent offenses and offenses committed by youth under the age of 10, which by law cannot be prosecuted.
Governor Jindal said, “Juvenile incarceration is a direct indication of the likelihood of adult incarceration. For example, research has shown that juveniles who are incarcerated are three times more likely to enter adult prison later in life compared to those who are were not committed to a facility earlier in life. Involvement in the juvenile justice system reduces a youth’s likelihood of completing high school, which in turn is associated with obtaining a lower paying job and an increased likelihood of participating in criminal activity.”
Governor Jindal will pursue legislation that would create an integrated case management system that allows for proactive treatment in juvenile probation. 
The legislation will be authored by Senator Rick Ward. The youth in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems currently overlap, and there is no clear coordination between the four entities that oversee these children: Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), OJJ, the Supreme Court, and the Department of Education (DOE)/local school boards. In addition, many of these children have behavioral and mental health issues.
Significant national research on the unique coordination needs of “crossover youth,” or those youth who participate in more than one system, show that a single, targeted, regionalized management system can better track youth from system to system, target services to those youth, and lower recidivism and potential adult incarceration.
In 2011, Louisiana created the Coordinated System of Care to better leverage the dollars flowing into juvenile mental health services for youth with severe disturbances. Still, there are clear opportunities for greater collaboration and sharing of information about students before they enter the legal system and increasing access to mental health services and other social services before they commit serious delinquent offenses.
Governor Jindal said the legislation will:
  • Create a structural outline for a transition to an integrated case management model, including leveraging the Coordinated System of Care to address mental health issues.
  • And complete the continuum of care for non-secure, secure, and child welfare populations, improving outcomes, reducing costs and focusing on proactive rather than reactive intervention.
Governor Jindal said, “Together, these reforms will build on the progress we’ve already made in helping at-risk youth so we can keep them out of trouble, help them grow up to positively impact their communities, and make our communities safer.”
Reducing the number of youth who become involved in the juvenile justice system will save the state money by reducing the costs associated with secure and non-secure care.  For example, the state spends $54,750 for each youth committed to a secure care facility for a period of one year, $43,435 for each youth committed to a non-secure facility, and adult incarceration costs the state $8,900 annually.
In contrast, the state spends just $8,537 per year for an education in a public school. A twelve-year public school education costs the state $102,444 – the equivalent of less than two years in a secure care facility. There are also long term savings associated with these reforms, including a reduction in adult prison expenses and less reliance on social services such as welfare and medical expenses, which are costly to the state.
Louisiana is unique in that it admits a larger proportion of drug and non-violent criminals to prison than the national average and the state sentences non-violent offenders to longer sentences than the rest of the country. In 2010 and 2011, approximately 1,350 first and second time offenders were incarcerated in Louisiana for possession or possession with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance.
The average sentence length for offenders convicted of possession was 4 years and the average for those convicted of possession with intent to distribute was 5 ½ to 7 ½ years.  It costs DOC $12.5 million for 500 offenders with a five-year sentence and the recidivism rate for these offenders is 30 percent.
Governor Jindal noted that the majority of drug prisoners rejoin society quickly, many within just a few years or even months. Studies show that while a sentence can be short, the impact of a felony conviction may last a lifetime, and a short period of incarceration has been shown to affect people’s earnings and ability to get a job, to be parents, and to become productive parts of their communities.
Studies have shown that drug treatment, in concert with other services and programs, is a more cost effective way to deal with non-violent, non-sex, non-habitual drug offenders than incarceration and can potentially reduce recidivism rates by up to 25 percent as well.   Many states, including Texas, Ohio, Kanas and Arkansas, are now utilizing cost-effective community based alternatives to incarceration as a way to deal with non-violent drug offenders.
Governor Jindal said sentencing reforms would help the state focus on locking up violent offenders. They divert certain non-violent drug offenders into treatment rather than prison in order to address the root cause of their offense and decrease the likelihood that they will re-offend, allowing facilities to reserve limited prison space for violent and career criminals.
Governor Jindal will pursue legislation on sentencing reform that has two main parts. The legislation will be authored by Representative Joe Lopinto.
First, the legislation would expand Louisiana’s Drug Court program. 
Currently, 48 Drug Court programs are in operation across Louisiana. While the Drug Court Probation program had been very successful, it is not available in every district and each program only has a limited number of slots.
An offender who enters the Drug Court program is placed on probation and undergoes significant monitoring, weekly check-ins with the administering Drug Court judge, and graduated sanctions for minor infractions before risking probation revocation. Successful completion of Drug Court expunges the offender’s record. The Drug Court has a recidivism rate of 3.2 percent, compared to 30 percent for offenders who are incarcerated without treatment.
Governor Jindal’s proposal would expand the Drug Court treatment approach for individuals who are currently ineligible or who otherwise do not have access to a Drug Court program. Similar to existing Drug Court programs, the expansion will target non-violent, non-sex, non-habitual offenders whose offense is a result of their addiction.
They will have been convicted of possession or possession with intent to distribute under $500, and have undergone a chemical dependency evaluation and pre-sentencing suitability determination, allowing for the input of the prosecuting District Attorney, to be deemed an appropriate candidate for the program.
These offenders will enter a Department of Corrections monitored probation program that mirrors the Drug Court model, with mandatory drug treatment by third party providers and Administrative Sanctions to ensure swift accountability and graduated sanctions.
Governor Jindal said, “Research shows that these offenders are not a threat to public safety when their addiction is treated successfully. Instead of ignoring the problems these offenders face, we should be helping them recover so they can safely re-enter their communities and become productive members of society instead of repeat offenders.”
Second, the legislation would allow for the conditional early release of non-violent first and second offense drug offenders. 
Currently, Louisiana prisons house first and second offense drug offenders who could benefit more from drug treatment than by serving the remainder of their incarceration. Similar to offenders in the Drug Court program, they have committed crimes that were largely caused by their addiction.
Governor Jindal’s proposal will incentivize these offenders to treat their addition with conditional early release to intense parole supervision, which is more rigorous than traditional parole, for the remainder of their sentence upon successful completion of a 90-day chemical dependency program.
In addition to this treatment, offenders eligible for conditional early release must be:
  • Non-sex, non-violent, first and second offenders for possession or possession with intent to distribute (PWITD) who, starting on July 1, 2013 on a rolling basis, have served at least two years of their sentence and are scheduled to be released within one year;
  • Deemed eligible according to a chemical dependency assessment by the DOC Mental Health Department and further suitability review by the Secretary of Corrections, specifically to determine if the offender poses a danger to himself or the public; this review will include:
    • Involvement by the offender in gang activity during the offender’s prison term;
    • Custody classification;
    • Risk of violence associated with the offender’s release; and
    • Availability of sufficient supervision resources.
  • Have received a release plan that addresses at a minimum:
    • Plans for after care;
    • Community based chemical dependency treatment;
    • Gainful employment; and
    • An approved residence plan.
Senator Rick Ward said, “These reforms will go a long way in advising and mentoring our youth so we can help prevent them from committing crimes and spending their childhood years in and out of prison. I am pleased to work with the Administration on these proposals that will ultimately keep our families and our citizens safer.”
Senator Danny Martiny said, “”These initiatives will help youth offenders access key rehabilitation services they need so they can grow up and have the opportunity to pursue their dreams rather than spending their lives in and out of the system.”
Representative Chuck Kleckley said, “These reforms will target substance abuse treatment for those whose addiction played a role in their offense, which will go a long way in preventing re-offenses, ultimately reducing costs to the state by lowering recidivism and reserving prison space for violent offenders.”
Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said,  “Providing substance abuse treatment for those whose addiction played a role in their offense will result in fewer drug offenses and will ultimately reduce costs to the state by lowering recidivism.  It positions us to prevent crime from a proactive approach rather than a reactive position. We feel the legislation will be an effective tool to reach those non-violent individuals who truly have addiction issues and who don’t pose a major public safety threat.”
Juvenile Justice Project Executive Director Dana Kaplan said, “Investing in our children now will keep juvenile crime low and keep our communities safer. Providing more efficient and effective services for our at-risk youth will continue to ensure that our youth can become law-abiding citizens who will positively contribute to society.”
Background On Previous Juvenile Justice Reform Initiatives
Governor Jindal also highlighted previous reforms his Administration has already implemented to reduce juvenile detention and help at-risk youth, including:
  • Working with OJJ and national partners to develop the Louisiana Model for Secure Care, which is a therapeutic approach to secure care for at-risk youth, based on something called the Missouri Model.
    • This model focuses on a therapeutic, child-centered environment with counseling and treatment options, rather than a traditional adult correctional/custodial model.
    • The program focuses on relationship building that gives youth the opportunity to belong and contribute to a group, make meaningful choices, develop transferable skills and mentor their peers.
    • As a result of this model, the number of youth within the secure care system at the three OJJ’s facilities has been reduced by 29 percent since 2008.
  • Increasing the number of youth earning GEDs at all three of OJJ’s facility schools so these children can pursue jobs or higher education when they leave the juvenile justice system.
    • In fact, nearly 60 students received their GEDs at an OJJ secure care facility last year.
    • And the OJJ facilities will implement the Common Core State Standards, the same more rigorous standards that all public schools in Louisiana will use starting in 2014. This ensures the state holds all students to the same high standards of academic achievement needed to be college and career ready.
  • Partnering with post-secondary education programs like those at Louisiana Technical College to connect youth with career opportunities, and connecting at-risk youth with community projects like Habitat for Humanity so they can learn the value of positively contributing to their community.
  • Training OJJ classroom teachers to administer and evaluate results of the TABE test, or Tests of Adult Basic Education, so these teachers can measure individual strengths and weaknesses of at-risk youth and help them thrive and succeed academically.
  • Creating the Coordinated System of Care (CSOC) to better coordinate and leverage mental health services for youth with severe disturbances.
Background On Previous Sentencing Reform Initiatives
Governor Jindal also highlighted how his administration implemented key sentencing reforms since 2008, including:
  • Passing a law that will increase public safety by requiring providers of home incarceration services to issue reports to the Department of Corrections on the offenders under their supervision.
  • Creating a process to allow probation and parole officers to punish probationers and parolees with administrative sanctions for technical violations of their supervision conditions, and enhancing the pardon and parole process to ensure members of the Pardon Board and Parole Board are equipped with the tools they need to make proper clemency decisions.
  • Merging the pardon and parole board and their duties and repealing the costly and under-utilized risk review panels, an extra layer of bureaucracy in the clemency process.
  • Increasing prosecutorial discretion so that district attorneys can tailor appropriate punishments as necessitated by the circumstances of the crime for non-violent, non-sex offense offenders.
  • Expanding the re-entry courts initiative into the 19th and 22nd judicial districts.
  • Simplifying the calculation of diminution of sentence, or “good time,” that non-violent, non-sex offense offenders can earn while they are in jail.
  • Allowing second time non-violent, non-sex offense, non-habitual offenders who have proven to be model prisoners to become parole eligible after serving 33 percent, rather than 50 percent, of their sentences.
  • Ensuring the effective use of the administrative sanctions that were enacted in 2011 and enabled probation and parole officers to quickly punish offenders under their supervision for violations of the conditions of their supervision.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s