La. bill would punish juvenile inmates who escape or attack guards, other inmates

Published: Apr. 19, 2022 at 5:27 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 19, 2022 at 5:46 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Reports of violence and abuse inside the state’s juvenile correctional facilities, along with escape after escape, has lawmakers calling for change.

Senator Katrina Jackson authored Senate Bill 335, calling for juveniles who escape or assault guards or other juveniles serve additional time in a juvenile facility.

“I’ve had guards and correctional facility officers in my district who have been beat. I have one man in my district who will never work again in his life,” said Sen. Jackson.

The Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) operates five juvenile detention centers around the state, including the Bridge City Center for Youth in Jefferson Parish. Nine inmates escaped from the facility in the past five months.

A law enforcement source identified 19-year-old Jonathan Sheard Jr. as the most recent escapee. Sheard, still on the loose, is accused of severely beating a female guard, stealing her keys and scaling a fence to break free.

“There are no consequences for their actions most of the time, and that is becoming a major issue,” said Sen. Jackson.

Perry Stagg, Assistant Secretary of the OJJ, supports the bill and said it’s about gaining control of the facilities. He said without control, there is no rehabilitation for the juvenile inmates.

“We can’t get there. We can’t get there because of the chaotic nature of the handful that we have that are causing a circus inside the facilities all the time,” said Stagg.

He said there is no peace inside because the juveniles live in a dormitory-style facility, where they are constantly having to watch their backs.

“The ones that want peace can’t get it,” said Stagg.

“There are tons of children in our juvenile facilities with mental illness, and we are using it as a dumping ground,” said Meghan Garvey.

Meghan Garvey with the Orleans Public Defenders and Rachel Gassert with the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights said the OJJ is a failure.

“That’s why it is unsafe in these facilities... because OJJ is not doing their job,” said Gassert.

While they too support Senator Jackson’s bill, they say so much more must change within the Office of Juvenile Justice to ensure the safety of both the juveniles and the people who work there.

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