NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - 17-year-old Jace Hingle is one of the dozens of young people detained inside Bridge City Center for Youth.
Last year, the State Legislative Auditor claimed violence inside Bridge City escalated 121 percent over a 5-year period.
Nicole Hingle, Jace’s mother, said a St. Tammany Parish Judge sentenced Jace to juvenile life at Bridge City for simple battery and resisting arrest with force or violence.
“I begged the judge not to send him there. I begged them to leave him at Florida Parish, and once he was sentenced, he became custody of the state with OJJ. They transported him to Bridge City,” Nicole said.
“The first night, he was in a fight and jumped. The fourth day, he was in an incident,” Nicole said.
Her son told her several kids were transported to Children’s Hospital for treatment.
“My son was knocked unconscious and kicked in the head. One child had his ear split by a razor blade. Another child had his eye socket and skull fractured,” Nicole said.
The Office of Juvenile Justice tells FOX 8 that HIPPA laws prevent the agency from commenting about juveniles at the facility. Hingle says no one from Bridge City called her immediately after the incident. Instead, she heard what happened from her son.
“He said, Mom, get me out of here. Mom, you’ve got to help me. Get me out of here,” Nicole said.
She decided to reach out to the Deputy Secretary of the Office of Juvenile Justice, Dr. James Bueche for help. In an email, provided to FOX 8, Hingle says she sent to the agency, she asked to stay confidential.
“I sent emails. I clearly said that this has to stay confidential. I didn’t want staff at Bridge City to know about the email out of fear of retaliation that something would be exposed to one of the kids who might think that my son is leaking information. My emails were completely ignored and Dr. Beuche immediately went to the facility the following morning and questioned my child. I wasn’t aware until I spoke to my child that day and he said mom, a man named Dr. Beuche spoke to me. I was outraged,” Nicole said.
Within a couple of days, there was another incident.
“He was in a fight and had his jaw broken. I was outraged. I was completely just disgusted and angry because I begged and pleaded and sent emails, made calls and I’ve given them all of the information to help me help him. Instead, they ignored me and brushed me off,” Nicole said.
Out of fear, Jace told the staff at Bridge City that he fell in the shower and would not admit what really happened to him. He ended up at Children’s Hospital and needed surgery.
“Right before the surgery, I was able to see him for a little bit and then two hours post-op, and then I had to leave. I haven’t seen him since. It’s been almost a month,” Nicole said.
OJJ transferred Jace to another facility in Acadiana to recover, but he’s now back at Bridge City.
“It’s a nightmare,” Nicole said.
She fears for her son and worries what might happen next.
“Every day is survival for him and every day is survival for me too,” Nicole said.
“When we think about our children underage, we assume that they’re given more reasonable care and supervision, and that’s not at all the case,” Nicole said.
Wendy Matherne is an advocate for mothers of incarcerated children. In the 2018 audit, there was a 53 percent increase in fights in all 5 facilities in Louisiana. She said that kind of violence can have lasting effects on youth.
“There’s an essence of fear in the air where they can’t even turn to their loved ones for protection and guidance. They feel like they have to suck it up and take it, so a lot of time the incidents aren’t even acknowledged,” Matherne said.
Matherne believes when a juvenile is released they often regress from the time they started detention.
“Instead of creating an environment that allows more violence and allows this kind of behavior, what are we doing to curb that? What are we doing to prevent it? What are we doing to facilitate growth?” said Matherne.
The Office of Juvenile Justice released this statement, ‘Secure care, the deep end of the Juvenile Justice System is reserved for youth that have been deemed a risk for future violence or delinquent acts and most in need of intensive treatment. The therapeutic model practiced in our facilities is heavily dependent upon staff maintaining youth in 12 person dormitories.’
State auditors concluded that Bridge City and the Swanson-Monroe facility are not conducive to O.J.J.’s therapeutic model. The report states O.J.J does not ensure 65 percent of youth placed in general population dorms are engaged in meaningful programs , and as a result, may not be effectively rehabilitated before re-entering the community.
“What it’s doing to them long term is not rehabilitation. It’s the complete opposite. They’re failing these kids, and they’re failing the community,” Nicole said.