Head of La.’s troubled Office of Juvenile Justice resigns

Published: Nov. 18, 2022 at 3:52 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Bill Sommers, the head of Louisiana’s Office of Juvenile Justice, has announced his resignation.

Sommers has served at the helm of the OJJ since 2020. In that time, his office has come under fire for failures to house and protect juvenile inmates, as well as neighboring communities.

There have been as many as 20 escapes in the past year, riots breaking out, as well as overwhelmed guards who have been seriously hurt at times.

Residents and parish leaders have called for the closure of some juvenile facilities, including the Bridge City Center for Youth in Jefferson Parish.

The OJJ wrote a letter to juvenile judges earlier this week saying facilities across the state are at max capacity, due in part to a 2021 riot that “completely destroyed” a 36-bed dorm at the Swanson facility in Monroe.

More: Violence, abuse, and escapes plague the juvenile justice system in Louisiana

Recently, some of the state’s most violent offenders were transferred from Bridge City to the old death row facility at Angola, which drew ire from juvenile justice advocates and families across the state.

Assistant Secretary Otha “Curtis” Nelson has been named interim deputy secretary by Governor John Bel Edwards. Nelson served as deputy judicial administrator for the La. Supreme Court Division of Children and Families until joining the agency earlier this year.

Sommers has acknowledged his office’s shortcomings in recent months, admitting that staffing shortages and poor retention have presented more difficulties.

“We’ve not been good neighbors. We haven’t. To have that many folks go out, that many times. I can’t blame them at all. This is on us. We’ve got to be better. We’ve got to figure it out. We’ve got to keep the youth inside these facilities,” Sommers said in June.

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