Today, Gov. John Bel Edwards, joined by Deputy Secretary Bill Sommers of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Sec. Jimmy LeBlanc of the Department of Corrections, announced an ongoing internal investigation into security failures that led to escapes from the Bridge City Center for Youth this past weekend and comprehensive plans, both short and long-term, to address these recent disturbances and the disrepair of the BBCY campus.
After an initial review of the incident that occurred early Sunday morning, where six juveniles escaped, OJJ determined that numerous deficiencies and failures contributed to the escapes, including an unauthorized deviation by an OJJ employee from the procedures established for the additional staffing support from DOC to conduct roving patrols of the interior and exterior of the facility. As a result, three BCCY employees have been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.
“The escapes from Bridge City cannot and will not continue,” said Gov. Edwards. “Recent disturbances within the facility have led to problems in the surrounding community and that is not acceptable. We are determined to restore safety and security. It is clear that there was a violation of the approved plan of action for additional security at Bridge City this past weekend, and we are taking swift action to correct that, while also focusing on short-term and long-term solutions that will bring greater safety not only to the youth in OJJ’s system but also the community near Bridge City.
“The issues that are being addressed are complicated, and the lack of staff is compounded by the poor condition of the dorms and other buildings at the center,” Gov. Edwards said. “A few weeks ago, OJJ was provided with additional manpower from the State Police and the Department of Corrections and that will remain in place as we implement more measures through a coordinated effort between all of the agencies in order to provide both an immediate response, as well as more long term solutions. That work is already happening. Given the number of juveniles in the system, closing Bridge City is not currently an option. However, we are working to significantly reduce the number of juveniles at BCCY, and we are taking every precaution possible to protect the juveniles, staff and community during this process.”
The next immediate steps at Bridge City will include the following: increased OJJ staffing in each dorm; keeping additional staff from LSP and DOC in place to actively monitor and secure the campus; increased communication between augmented and facility staff; and continuous, around the clock, onsite presence by OJJ leadership.
“We acknowledge that we’re facing some major challenges with the Bridge City center itself, but we are working every day to address them for the safety of our youth, staff and the outside communities, said OJJ Deputy Sec. Bill Sommers. “We are grateful for the partnership with all of the agencies helping to address the staffing and housing issues, and we believe this is the best option at this time to meet this urgent situation. We are committed to doing what is in the best interest of protecting the youth, our staff and the community.”
“Our Probation and Parole officers and correctional officers continue to provide supplementary support in OJJ facilities as needed,” said Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary Jimmy Le Blanc. “Our main focus is the safety and security of juvenile residents, staff, and the community. To accomplish this, we are building a space at Jetson that provides secure and safe housing for juveniles with disciplinary issues, including programming, counseling, and opportunities to work toward step down level of custody.”
Many of the buildings at Bridge City have fallen into major disrepair, and it will be necessary to transfer the youth as soon as possible to safer housing. DOC has identified a vacant building on the grounds of the Louisiana State Penitentiary that, with minor modifications, can house many of the juveniles currently at BCCY, while keeping them in separate facilities from adult inmates at all times. The building that will house these youth is completely isolated and apart from the rest of the campus and will only be used temporarily until the completion of renovations at the Jetson Correctional Center. All juveniles will remain in the care and custody of OJJ and will continue to receive all of the services they currently receive through OJJ, including education.
Youth who are part of JUMP (Juvenile Understanding and Managing Problematic Behavior Program) for juveniles adjudicated of sexual offenses will remain at BCCY where they can continue to receive specialized counseling with the on-campus therapists and social workers with whom they have well established relationships. These juveniles represent half of those housed at BCCY currently and have not been part of the recent escapes or disturbances. Once the transition period begins, the number of youth and accessible buildings and grounds at BCCY will be reduced significantly to include only those dorms and public areas accessed by youth taking part in JUMP.
More permanent, long term solutions are also being developed. Construction of new juvenile housing at the Swanson facility in Monroe is underway and it is scheduled to be in operation by Spring 2023. The new behavioral health unit at Cypress located at Swanson in Monroe is being renovated to resume individualized behavioral treatment of detained juveniles. Opportunities for additional facilities around the state are being evaluated as well as refurbishing existing facilities for the intake, assessment, and appropriate placement of incoming juveniles.