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Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform | LA

Louisiana: 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 


  • Youth Involved in the Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Systems — Louisiana Aims to Better Serve Crossover Youth: Recognizing the need for targeted case management and better coordination between systems, the Louisiana legislature passed a law to better serve youth in the juvenile justice system who are in need of mental health or child welfare services. The legislation requires the creation of an “Integrated Case Management Planning System” that focuses on the behavioral health, rehabilitative, and educational needs of youth involved in or exiting the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. The Department of Public Safety and Corrections and the Department of Children and Family Services must work together to identify the prevalence of youth served by multiple systems, identify opportunities to more efficiently and effectively deliver programs and services to youth across all systems of care, and develop mechanisms for funding of such programs and services. By July 1, 2014 the departments must jointly issue a report of the timeline and processes for implementing the program by July 1, 2015. S.B. 107/Act No. 214 , signed into law June 10, 2013; effective August 1, 2013.
  • Adjudication and Sentencing — Louisiana Replaces Mandatory Life Without Parole Sentences for Youth with 35 Year Mandatory Minimums: In order to comply with Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), Louisiana passed legislation establishing parole eligibility for certain youth sentenced to life imprisonment for homicide offenses. However, it replaced the life without parole sentence with a 35 year mandatory minimum sentence which is not retroactive. When sentencing youth convicted of first- or second-degree murder, the court must conduct a hearing to determine whether any life sentence should include parole eligibility, taking into consideration the facts of the crime, criminal history, level of family support, and social history of the youth. The law creates specific criteria that must be met in order for someone sentenced to life imprisonment as a youth to become eligible for parole, including: completion of thirty-five years of the sentence; no discipline offenses within the past twelve months; completion of at least 100 hours of pre-release programming; completion of substance abuse treatment, if applicable; completion of a diploma, GED, or literacy, adult basic education, or job training program; designation as low-risk after a validated risk assessment; and completion of a reentry program. Additionally, at the parole hearing, board members must consider an evaluation by an expert in adolescent brain development and behavior.  H.B. 152/Act No. 239, signed into law June 12, 2013; effective August 1, 2013.
  • Organization and Large-Scale Change — Louisiana Designates Primary Researcher and Advisor to Legislature on Juvenile Justice Issues: The Louisiana legislature designated the Institute for Public Health and Justice of the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans as the primary researcher and advisor to the legislature on issues related to youth involved with the criminal justice system and youth with behavioral needs. The institute is to provide reliable and current information about best practices and successful local models, prepare annual reports for the legislature, offer technical assistance to the Juvenile Justice Reform Act Implementation Commission, and monitor juvenile justice reforms. H.B. 177/Act No. 3, signed into law May 23, 2013; effective August 1, 2013.


  • Sexual Exploitation of Youth — Louisiana Protects Child Trafficking Victims from Prosecution for Prostitution: Thanks to a new Louisiana law, youth who are victims of trafficking may not be adjudicated as delinquent for prostitution-related offenses. The law also allows youth who were victims of trafficking and were adjudicated delinquent for prostitution-related offenses to have their records expunged. H.B. 49/Act No. 446 , signed into law June 1, 2012; effective August 1, 2012.
  • Conditions of Confinement — Legislature Aims to Improve Education for Committed Youth: Recognizing that education is one of the most important aspects of rehabilitation, Louisiana established a policy to help ensure all youth committed to the Department of Public Safety and Corrections receive a quality education. All youth must be assessed using a research-based diagnostic tool within 30 days of placement to a secure facility. The department will use this assessment to develop an academic plan and timetable to improve the youth’s reading ability, bring the child up to grade level, or help the youth prepare for a high school diploma, GED, or a certificate of achievement from the Special School District. S.B. 156/Act No. 629, signed into law and effective June 7, 2012.
  • Adjudication and Sentencing — Louisiana Prohibits Life-Without-Parole Sentences for Non-Homicide Offenses: Louisiana passed legislation to end juvenile life without parole for non-homicide offenses. The bill follows the ruling in Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), providing parole eligibility for youth sentenced to life imprisonment who have reached age forty-five, served twenty years of the imposed sentence, and have no serious disciplinary offenses. The parole board must consider a risk assessment, an evaluation by an expert in adolescent brain development, and any other relevant information. S.B. 317/Act No. 466, signed into law June 1, 2012; effective August 1, 2012.
  • Juvenile Defense and Court Process — Legislation Makes Filing of a Complaint a Last Resort: Louisiana now requires any agency wishing to file a complaint in juvenile court to utilize “all appropriate and available” resources prior to filing the complaint. If the agency does file a complaint, it must provide documentation of all steps it has taken prior to the filing. If a school files a complaint, it must document meetings held with the youth, meetings with the youth’s caretaker, and referral of the youth to school behavior support personnel. S.B. 467/Act No.660, signed into law June 7, 2012; effective August 1, 2012.
  • Conditions of Confinement — Legislature Strengthens Licensing Requirements for Juvenile Detention Facilities: Louisiana amended the licensing provisions for juvenile detention facilities, establishing penalties for operating a facility without a valid license and allowing the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) to develop a corrective action plan for facilities in violation of detention standards. Facilities that violate licensing standards may be fined or be subject to an injunction against any illegal or unsafe operations. Any fines collected will go into the newly established “Juvenile Detention Licensing Fund,” which will fund education and training of employees, staff, or other personnel at youth facilities. H.B. 982/Act No. 814, signed into law June 13, 2012; effective January 1, 2013.
  • School-to-Prison Pipeline — Louisiana Law Helps Ensure Education of Youth in Juvenile Justice System: Louisiana now allows students who are expelled from school for offenses involving weapons or controlled substances to attend alternative education programs. Such students were previously excluded from these programs. Law also now requires the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to establish provisions for agreements between school authorities and education service providers that ensure the education of students who are adjudicated delinquent, adjudicated in need of service, placed in a juvenile facility, assigned to a community based-program, or suspended or expelled for weapons or controlled dangerous substance offenses. These rules and regulations must provide for academic, behavioral, and mental health interventions that focus on positive reinforcement, mentoring, experiential learning, employability, and success in the community. H.B. 1209/Act No. 831, signed into law and effective June 14, 2012.
  • School-to-Prison Pipeline — Recovery School District Limits Expulsion of Youth: The Recovery School District revised its student code of conduct to limit the offenses for which students can be expelled. Under the new code, students may no longer be expelled for willful disobedience, uniform violations, or multiple suspensions for violations that are not classified as level three offenses. Expulsion is reserved for more serious or violent offenses. The district also revised its policy for appeals of expulsions in order to ensure due process for students and their families.


  • Conditions of Confinement — State Establishes Standards for Juvenile Detention Facilities: Detention reform in Louisiana passed another milestone in July 2011, when the Task Force on Juvenile Detention Center Standards submitted a final draft of proposed standards to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). The task force was created by legislation passed in 2010 (H.B. 1477/Act 863, signed into law June 30, 2010; effective August 15, 2010). The standards—informed by the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change initiative—end the use of restraint chairs and chemical restraints such as pepper spray in facilities; mandate that staff receive increased training, including on best practices for working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth; address access to required educational and other services; and create procedures for reporting complaints. Final standards were promulgated January 31, 2012, with all facilities to be licensed and in compliance by the end of 2013.
  • Organizational and Large-Scale Change — Louisiana House Resolves to Assess Juvenile Justice System and Develop Recommendations for Reform: Recognizing the deficiencies of juvenile facilities in Louisiana, past violations of civil rights, dramatic downsizing since 2003, and the positive influence of the MacArthur Foundation’s Louisiana Models for Change initiative, a House Concurrent Resolution urged the Juvenile Justice Reform Act Implementation Commission to assess the current state of the juvenile justice system, evaluate improvements made over the preceding five years, and issue recommendations for a five-year plan for reform. The Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center’s Institute for Public Health and Justice will conduct the study; its report is expected in January 2013. H.C.R. 120, adopted June 8, 2011.
  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Youth in the System — New Orleans Juvenile Detention Center Sets New Policies to Protect LGBT Youth: The Louisiana Department of Human Services and the New Orleans juvenile detention center—the Youth Study Center (YSC)—introduced a new policy in August of 2011 designed to protect the safety and dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth under their supervision. The policy oversees the protection of LGBT youth already in the custody of the system—estimated at 15 percent, according to national data—and also mandates that direct care staff, supervisors, and social service providers at the detention center undergo training to help create a safer environment for LGBT youth in their care. The policy provides eleven procedural guidelines, including a definition of what qualifies as discrimination, harassment, and abuse of LGBT youth; a prohibition on discriminating or threatening anyone based upon their sexual orientation or gender identity, by both staff and other incarcerated youth; and a prohibition on placing LGBT youth in isolation as a “means of keeping them safe from discrimination.”
  • Juvenile Defense and Court Process — State Public Defender Board Sets Performance Standards for Legal Representation in Delinquency Proceedings: In December 2011, the Louisiana Public Defender Board issued the state’s first trial court performance standards for juvenile delinquency proceedings. The standards are intended to alert defense counsel to courses of action that may be necessary, advisable, or appropriate, and thereby assist attorneys in deciding upon the particular actions that must be taken in each case to ensure that the client receives the best representation possible. The standards are also intended to provide a measure by which the performance of individual attorneys and district public defender offices may be evaluated, and to assist in training and supervising attorneys.

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  • Organizational and Large-Scale Change — Legislature Passes Resolution to Move State Closer to “Missouri Model” of Juvenile Justice: The Louisiana State Legislature passed a resolution to further Louisiana’s efforts to implement the “Missouri Model” of juvenile justice. The resolution establishes a task force, which includes local advocacy organizations, to evaluate Louisiana’s progress towards implementing the Missouri Model and determine what further steps should be taken. Task force meetings are ongoing. S.C.R. 131, adopted June 21, 2010 and H.C.R. 245, adopted on June 16, 2010.
  • School-to-Prison Pipeline — State Commits to Improved Behavior and Discipline Plans in Schools: Legislation now requires Louisiana schools to develop master plans that provide for the training of teachers, principals, and other school personnel in the areas of positive behavioral supports, conflict resolution, mediation, cultural competence, restorative practices, guidance and discipline, and adolescent development. Public school boards must provide ongoing classroom management courses and regularly review discipline data from each school to determine what additional training is needed and what additional classroom support activities should be provided. The legislation is part of a larger movement in Louisiana to end the school-to-prison pipeline and improve discipline practices in schools. S.B. 527/Act 136, signed into law and effective June 8, 2010.
  • Alternatives to Detention and Youth Prisons — Jefferson Parish Increases Reliance on Evidence-Based Programs: As part of their work with the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change initiative, Jefferson Parish Department of Juvenile Services officials committed to developing a wide array of evidence-based programs in their jurisdiction. Because of that effort, 95 percent of juvenile justice-involved youth were referred for evidencebased programs in 2010, compared with just seven percent in 2007. Additionally, the parish devoted 95 percent of its treatment budget in 2010 to evidence-based programs, compared with just nine percent in 2007.
  • Conditions of Confinement — Consent Decrees Aim to Improve Conditions at Orleans Parish Detention Center: In February 2010, two consent decrees were finalized regarding conditions of confinement and education at New Orleans’ juvenile detention center, the Youth Study Center. The consent decrees were filed in October 2009 following twenty-two months of negotiations after a class-action lawsuit was filed in December 2007. The lawsuit included allegations of locked fire doors with no available keys, insects and rodents biting youth, children with serious conditions being denied their medication, and suicidal youth not receiving mental health services. The consent decrees’ provisions include increased staffing for the Youth Study Center; increased training of all staff on such issues as suicide prevention, behavior, and classroom management; improved healthcare, including prohibiting staff from denying medical care to youth and increased medical and mental health staffing; increased focus on programming, education, and physical recreation; and an increase of one social worker per unit.
  • Juvenile Defense and Court Process — State Law Provides for Counsel for Children: Louisiana law now states that all children are presumed indigent for the purpose of appointment of counsel at the state’s expense. The law permits appointment of counsel for all youth immediately upon arrest and detention. Prior to the law, youth had to wait as long as 72 hours to be appointed counsel at the continued custody hearing. The law is intended to expedite appointment of counsel for youth and avoid detention in certain cases, due to earlier access to information and increased advocacy. H.B. 663/Act 593, signed into law June 25, 2010; effective August 15, 2010.
  • Interrogations and Confessions — Legislature Restricts Use of Confessions: A new Louisiana law creates specific restrictions on the use of a youth’s confession in court without a knowing and voluntary waiver, unless the state proves in court beyond a reasonable doubt that the confession was “freely and voluntarily given and was not made under the influence of fear, duress, intimidation, menaces, threats, inducements, or promises.” The legislation includes a list of several factors that the court must consider in making such a determination, including the age and education of the child, and the methods and length of the interrogation. H.B. 663/Act 593, signed into law June 25, 2010; effective August 15, 2010.

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  • Status Offenses — Families in Need of Services Commission to Make Recommendations for Reform of Status Offense Policies and Practices: A Senate Concurrent Resolution created the Families in Need of Services (FINS) Commission to study Louisiana’s FINS system, including how the state handles youth who commit status offenses. The legislature directed the commission to make recommendations regarding the key components of a model status offender program and to consult with the MacArthur Foundation’s Louisiana Models for Change initiative, among other stakeholders. The commission issued its final report in January 2012, which recommends limited use of detention for youth who commit status offenses; use of alternatives to detention and appropriate graduated sanctions; and gathering and analysis of data related to the FINS system in order to track outcomes. Calcasieu, Jefferson, and Rapides parishes served as models for the commission, having reduced the numbers of youth processed through the FINS system for status offenses between 2006 and 2010, thanks in part to partnerships with schools, more effective detention screening, and infrastructure review. S.C.R. 44, passed June 27, 2011.
  • Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) — Rapides Parish Reduces Disproportionate Probation Revocations Using Standardized Assessment Tool: In May 2009, Rapides Parish juvenile justice officials, in collaboration with the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change initiative, developed a service referral matrix based on the Structured Assessment of Violence Risk in Youth (SAVRY) with a goal of reducing disproportionate probation revocations. The matrix outlines all of the options available to address a youth’s needs in various domains, including mental health, family relationships, and peers. Probation officers use the matrix to ensure that they connect youth with every available resource in their community. Additionally, the parish now requires that a supervisor and two additional probation officers review and approve revocation requests before they move forward. As a result of the changes, probation revocations dropped 61 percent from 2010 to 2011, including a 60 percent decrease for African American boys and a 50 percent decrease for African American girls.
  • Screening and Assessment — Office of Juvenile Justice Adopts Standard Screening and Assessment Tool for All Adjudicated Youth: In partnership with the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change initiative, the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) adopted the Structured Assessment of Violence Risk in Youth (SAVRY) as the tool used to assess all youth placed in state custody. The SAVRY tool, which has now been implemented statewide, allows OJJ to create individualized plans for rehabilitation services for each youth based upon risk and need. Using the tool, OJJ can inform the sentencing judge if community-based program options are more appropriate for youth sentenced to secure confinement. The statewide use of the SAVRY will provide OJJ with data that will inform the development of the continuum of care for adjudicated youth.
  • Alternatives to Detention and Youth Prisons — Legislation Encourages Establishment of Evidence-Based Programs: New legislation in Louisiana specifically authorizes commissioners of juvenile justice districts to enter into agreements to establish and maintain evidence-based programs for youth. This marks the first time in Louisiana’s history that the state has included the terminology and vision of evidence-based services for youth in legislation. The law, which was informed by the research and policies of the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change initiative, additionally authorizes spending for the programs. H.B. 701/Act 100, signed into law June 18, 2009; effective August 15, 2009.
  • Facility Closures and Downsizing — Legislature Converts Juvenile Institution into Regional Treatment Facility: The Jetson Center for Youth, closed as a juvenile correctional facility, is being converted into a regional treatment facility. Legislation sets forth requirements for the operation of the treatment facility, including overall design aligned with national best practices. The facility must have small dorms that house no more than 12 youth, and be limited to 99 youth total. The legislation mandates that the facility have a therapeutic setting, use standardized and validated risk/need assessments, use evidence-based programs, focus on staff development, involve family members, continuously evaluate its programs, and have a staff-to-youth ratio consistent with positive behavior models. While some improvements have already been made, much more still needs to be done to ensure the facility is indeed fully therapeutic and in compliance with the legislative mandate. S.B. 302/Act 253, signed into law July 1, 2009; effective August 15, 2009.

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