St. Mary Parish has signed an agreement to send its juvenile offenders to the Lafayette Juvenile Detention Center.
Parish President Paul Naquin said the move will cost the parish $125 a day.
The parish will continue to use the St. James Parish Juvenile Detention Center as well to incarcerate adjudicated juveniles in the east St. Mary Parish area. The cost to taxpayers for the St. James deal is $130 daily.
The recent closure of the St. Martinville Detention Center last year prompted the agreement.
Captain Joey Hebert of the St. Mary Sheriff’s Office said the parish picks up all costs to house juvenile offenders. So far this year, the juvenile crime rate mirrors the previous two years’ rates, he said. Eighty juveniles were arrested in 2011 and 2010.
“Juvenile detention is based on the severity of crime and if the child poses a threat to himself or the general public,” Hebert said.
Parish finance director Paul Governale told the St. Mary Parish Council last week that the savings would benefit the parish. “Even $5 cheaper makes a huge difference in costs to house juveniles,” he said.
For his part, Judge Kim Stansbury, one of two juvenile court judges in St. Mary, said he’s built a rapport with the St. James facility’s staff. However, he advocates building a Tri-parish juvenile center, which would create an inter-governmental cooperation agreement between local law enforcement agencies.
“The public has no idea of all of the costs, which are additional to housing the juvenile,” he said, citing the costs to transport young offenders to court – deputies’ time, gas and medical expenses.
“Just the other day, I sent a young girl to St. James. When she got there, she became ill. Guess what happened? The detention center would not take her, so the deputy had to drive the young lady back to Morgan City to the emergency room here,” Stansbury said.
“Then, there are medical costs inside the facility, especially if the juvenile has been sexually or mentally abused, in addition to needing medical attention because of drug abuse.”
State Rep. Sam Jones agrees that something needs to exist in the Tri-parishes, but doesn’t believe it necessarily needs to be a detention center.
“If you don’t rehabilitate, then you have to incarcerate,” he said. “We as parishes need to do our own thing, like build some sort of group home, but there again, that takes funds.
“And sadly, Gov. Bobby Jindal is very mistaken to think that we can do more and more with less,” Jones said. “The damage he is doing here, like shutting down classrooms and funding to vo-tech schools, he will not see during his governorship. But it will place a full load on the next administration.”
Jones cited a recent state-inked deal with the New Orleans Hornets deal as being “too fat” an arrangement.
“I love the Hornets. I love the Saints. We need them, but when does the giving stop, especially when we’re faced with problems like handling our juveniles,” he said. “Can we continue to generate $20 million a year for Tom Benson, while we’re slashing and scrapping?”
Clarence Robinson Jr., president of the 100 Black Men of St. Mary, a branch of the 100 Black Men of America, said he wishes the courts would turn first- and second-time offenders over to organizations like his.
“That’s our mission, to work with kids. Our slogan is ‘What they see is what they’ll be,’” Robinson said. “But we really need to grab our children early, very early, so that they don’t become an offender, a statistic.
“For instance, we need to host events like Learning How to Tie a Neck Tie Day at the barbershop. This was a suggestion my barber, Isaiah Skinner, gave to me the other day, but it is an excellent idea. In the black community, the barbershop for men and the hair salon for ladies is almost a sacred place. It is the place where we come together in our culture.”
But church elder Lee Condolle sees the problem differently. He believes juvenile problems are church problems.
Condolle recently opened a new church in Patterson – One Faith Fellowship Christian Center – after an extended sabbatical.
“Pastors and their church family need to leave their church buildings. They are just places to commune,” he said. “We are the church, and we need to go beyond our four walls. People need to see us. All kinds of people, from all walks of life, need to see us working in their communities.”
Condolle, who also works as a St. Mary school bus driver, said helping teens is a priority. He is seeking grants to begin enrichment programs to mentor parish youths.