By Stacey Tinsley, email@example.com
Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law yesterday a bill that leaves behind a profound legacy for a Haughton youth who tragically took his own life.
HB 158, also known as Solan’s Law, requires screening and allowing for alternatives to detention for juveniles. The bill is named in memory of 13-year-old Solan Peterson who committed suicide while in custody at Ware Youth Center in February.
Solan’s Law allows for alternatives to juvenile detention, including being released into parents’ custody if they promise in writing to bring the child to court when ordered.
Ronnie Peterson, Solan’s father, said, “We, of course, are honored that this bill was renamed for our son and see it as a good first step in juvenile criminal justice reform.”
Authored by Malinda White, D-Dist. 75, the bill was supported by local legislators.
State Senator Ryan Gatti (R-Bossier City), State Senator Barrow Peacock (R-Bossier City), and State Representative Dodie Horton (R-Haughton) all became co-authors on the bill by the time it was signed, saying it offers alternative measures to help children who make a mistake.
“Solan’s Law is a powerful bill that will protect our children. We will continue to work with his family and our state authorities to protect our children. Solan’s memory will live on as this law protects children,” said Sen. Gatti.
Solan’s Law also requires screening that takes into account a child’s prior history of delinquency and any “mitigating or aggravating circumstances” when determining whether they need to be detained in a juvenile facility, or allowed to participate in an alternative to detention.
“This bill gives alternatives. It doesn’t just say that we are going to lock up our children who have done something wrong. It will be taken into consideration the risk factors and that there will be other ways to help them,” said Sen. Peacock. “I’m all for trying to help our children when they make a mistake verses locking them up.”
Also, the law requires this screening to be done before a child is taken to detention, or as soon as possible upon their arrival. The results of the screening must be reported to the court promptly. The screening requirement will go into effect on July 1, 2020.
“I could not have been more honored to co-author this specific bill. It will save the lives of children to come,” said Rep. Horton.
The law establishes specifically that “secure detention shall be used only when it is determined to be necessary based on the child’s assessed risk to public safety or to secure the appearance of the child in court.”
It also establishes that juvenile detention facilities “shall not be used to detain a child who is alleged to have committed a delinquent act”.
Solan and another teen, who committed suicide within 72 hours of Solan, were sent to Ware following February arrests in Bossier Parish.
Solan was detained on a charge of simple arson. Authorities said he set toilet paper on fire at a Haughton Middle School restroom.
The 17-year-old had been arrested after he got involved in an argument with a friend in his front yard over stolen money. The teenager escaped from the back seat of a Bossier Sheriff patrol unit and was found in a nearby bayou with a handgun. The teen was arrested for simple escape and resisting arrest and taken to Ware until his court date.
Ware is a state-created juvenile detention facility that’s operated by a board of directors from parishes that fund its operation. It is approved by the state Office of Juvenile Justice to house pretrial and post-conviction juvenile offenders.
The last suicide reported at Ware happened in March 2017 when a 16-year-old girl from Lake Charles took her own life.