NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - There's a move to stop housing juvenile offenders at the New Orleans Correctional Complex formerly known as Orleans Parish Prison.
The Louisiana Center for Children's Rights wants the City Council to put a stop to housing offenders younger than under 18 at the new jail. Instead, they want to keep them at the city's juvenile detention facility, the Youth Study Center. They held a rally in front of City Hall on Wednesday and delivered a petition to community leaders.
Councilwoman Susan Guidry and Councilman-at-Large Jason Williams support the idea.
"On top of the fact that under federal law, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, children are to be kept away from adults in jail, out of sight, out of sound. That simply cannot happen at OPP, and it is not happening at OPP, so we need to remove our children immediately," Guidry said.
"Keeping our children out of a facility that has been described as one of the most dangerous in the world for adults is a no-brainer," Williams said. "The fact that we are having this conversation, that we have to have this rally, seriously concerns me."
We asked Sheriff Marlin Gusman for comment, and his office released this statement: "The Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office is required to follow the rules of the court. We do not solicit juvenile offenders, we only take them in." The statement goes on to say, "While they could legally be placed in the general population, the Sheriff has created a special classification for youth offenders in order to keep them segregated."
The Louisiana Center for Children's Rights is asking the council to pass a budget that would include $7 million to relocate 24 beds to the Youth Study Center to house those juvenile offenders who are being held at the jail. The group says the Youth Study Center is a secure detention facility that is equipped to handle violent juvenile offenders.
Guidry said she will now take the petition to the mayor, council and sheriff. In June, the City Council passed an ordinance that allows 12 beds at the Youth Study Center to be used for juvenile offenders who are being tried as adults.
The Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office said currently there are six juveniles in their custody awaiting trial as adults. There are 19 inmates under 18 in their custody under orders from the court or the district attorney's office.
On Wednesday evening, the mayor's office released the following:
"The Landrieu Administration strongly supports efforts to move youth that have been transferred from Juvenile to Criminal Court jurisdiction and have been housed at OPP to the Youth Study Center. The City, Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office, Juvenile and Criminal Court judges, and several members of City Council have been working together for over a year to move those individuals to the Youth Study Center.
"The Youth Study Center is a holding facility for pre-adjudicated youth and is designed to provide all staff, visitors and detained youth with a safe environment that prioritizes the particular needs of youth. To that end, all youth at the Youth Study Center have individual rooms for sleeping, access to classroom-based education, access to recreation and family visits, as well as access to quality medical care, including mental health.
"Under Mayor Landrieu's leadership, conditions of detained youth have dramatically improved. In early 2013, the City settled the consent decree regarding conditions at the former Temporary Youth Study Center; and in spring 2014, the City opened the new, $31.6 million Youth Study Center facility.
"Beginning in December 2014, the City began a pilot program at the Youth Study Center where 12 beds were set aside for youth transferred from OPP and / or who were charged as adults. This program has been successful and as a result, the City is committed to allocating an additional $7 million in capital and/or FEMA funding to expand the Youth Study Center from a 40 bed facility to a 65 bed facility. This expansion will be completed in 2018."