Louisiana. Swanson Center for Youth Under Fire

Swanson becoming dumping ground for tough youth  
More youth, less money, overwhelmed staff


There are 194 youth imprisoned at Swanson Center for Youth, the local staff is overwhelmed by the numbers and problems are being reported daily.Representative Rosalind Jones-Lewis, joined the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL) and in announcing this week that Swanson needs help as it becomes the dumping ground for juvenile offenders across the state.

The JJPL released a blistering report this week in which detailed problems at Swanson that stem from a lack of funding and some alleged abuses by staff members including staff encourgement of fights, and lack of care for injured students.

Jones-Lewis said Wednesday that the state is reducing the size of other juvenile facilities across the state and dumping them all at Swanson without sending the additional monies needed to handle the increases or provide the needed services. Overcrowding and other problems are the result, said Rep. Jones-Lewis.

The Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana’s report, “No Better Off,” states that while Louisiana has made major improvements at its two other state-run juvenile prisons, problems at Swanson have continued to increase and the facility remains “unfit” a year after it was ensnared in controversy by reports of an unusually large number of fights among youth and attacks on staff and six months after a federal report found there was an above-average number of reports of sexual abuse at the facility.

The report cited complaints by youth inmates, and documented accounts included in official records obtained through Freedom of Information requests.

Two problems are generally addressed by the report: Those that are funding related and those that are local based staff issues.

The model that many states use as the ideal juvenile detention method is called the Missouri Model. It calls for smaller facilities, about 45 youth with a six to one supervison level. It also calls for emphasis on rehabilitation, remediation and integration of youth into the mainstream.

While Swanson’s population of 194 is about half it was in the past it is four times the Missouri model. Beyond the GED there is very little training, remediation or counseling available to youth.

The problem is finance related: The state refuses to put up the money to adequately respond to the Swanson problem.

The 2010-11 budget allocates over $152 million for juvenile justice with over 1/3 of the funds allocated to its three juvenile facilities: Jetson, Bridge City and Swanson.

The other problems cited in the report are staff related.

The JJPL report accuses Swanson of overusing its lockdown facilities, keeping some inmates in lockdown for more than the five day maximum. It also says guards are alledgely encouraging fights among rival youth inmates showing them areas to fight outside of camera range. The report says some guards are allowing the fights in bathrooms to proceed then call in on their radios and report them to cover themselves.

The report cites instances in which children of mixed ages are being housed with older youth. Rep. Jones-Lewis said sometimes 12 year olds and 20 year olds are housed together creating problems.

The Swanson staff is taking the heat for all of the problems, many of which are funding and staff related. Too many youth and too little funds to meet their needs finds Carolyn Atkins the director of Swanson for the last 13 months trying to pull rabbits out of the hat to manage what is becoming unmanageable as youth inmates increase and funds decrease.

The report made several recommendations including:

—More best practice training for Swanson staff

—Increase funding for Swanson

—Develop punishment systems that will stop youth from becoming career system participants.

—Install more cameras and eliminate dead zones

—House youth in age and region appropriate dorms

—Create honor dorms for youth who demonstrate good behavior

—Reduce the size of the dorms

NOTE TO JJPL:  All the recommendations are good ones,  however the first thing that needs to happen is the facility needs to be made safe.  The proposal which includes cameras and housing changes and reduction in size of dorms (that the state may or may not fund) will help, but there needs to be effective limit setting tools so that a few youths do not run the agenda for all the youth. 

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One Response to Louisiana. Swanson Center for Youth Under Fire

  1. Simon Wainwright says:

    What was the racial demographics at the time of this article. Is it possible that in this day and age racism is still prevailant in the funding or lack of funding for certain institutions. What is the racial demographics of Jetson?

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