A Missouri juvenile justice expert, an entourage of Louisiana officials, and several television cameras tracked through a wood shop in Louisiana’s Jetson Correctional Center this week to highlight juvenile justice reform in the state. The Advocate in Baton Rouge says that reporters were invited by the administration of Gov. Kathleen Blanco to demonstrate how she has moved the issue to the forefront of her initiatives. After months of waiting, the governor last week announced a strategy focusing more on treatment than incarceration.
Blanco called in Mark Steward, director of Missouri’s Division of Youth Services, to assess the state’s prison system for young criminals. Missouri has received accolades for a juvenile prison system that boast low rates of violence and repeat offenses — two traits that plague Louisiana. In Missouri, young convicts are incarcerated in small home-like dorms with no more than a dozen juveniles with similar situations. The inmates get to know each other. The teachers also serve as security. Plus they live near their homes. Louisiana, like most states, imprisons all youthful offenders together, no matter what the crime. Steward will review the programs offered by Louisiana’s three juvenile penitentiaries, the guards, the teachers, how the staff interacts with the inmates, how the offenders are grouped and assessed for training and treatments. The state is paying Steward $20,000.