Government Edwards activates LSP, DOC to send aid for staff shortage at Bridge City Center for Youth and Swanson – L’Observateur

BATON ROUGE, La. † Governor John Bel Edwards ordered the Louisiana State Police and the Department of Corrections to immediately provide additional personnel to help the Office of Juvenile Justice with its staff shortages at both Bridge City Center for Youth and Swanson Center for Youth in Monroe. Beginning Friday night, DOC correctional, probation and probation officers will begin bolstering OJJ personnel and state police officers will secure the perimeter of the facilities. This is a direct response to the recent disturbances in both centers. OJJ is also exploring additional short- and long-term housing options.

“Starting tonight, there will be more manpower on the ground in both Bridge City and Swanson, providing additional security to ensure the safety of youth, staff and surrounding communities,” said Governor Edwards. “Our aim is to ensure that the unfortunate incidents that have recently occurred at both facilities will not happen again. It is an urgent situation and this immediate solution will be in place for as long as necessary as we work on a long-term staffing plan to ensure the safety of the young people entrusted to our care, as well as the staff . We are discussing a longer term solution and nothing is off the table. The problems are complex, but the most important of these are the lack of workers and the great disrepair of the Bridge City campus. We have worked with Assistant Secretary Bill Sommers to address the issues and will continue to do so. Our commitment has always been to keep the youth safe while supporting their rehabilitation and we have not and will not part with that.”

Late Thursday night, 20 youths in Bridge City, ages 16 and 17, got into an altercation outside their assigned dormitories, overwhelming staff. The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Department was called and deployed its SWAT team. After order was restored, some of the young people involved were immediately transferred to another secure care facility of the OJJ. The day before, five youths escaped from Bridge City and they were all recaptured. On Monday there was a brawl at the Swanson Center for Youth, with local police responding to regain control of the centre.

“I am deeply grateful for Governor Edwards’ assistance, active leadership and support as we seek to provide the safest and most secure environment in all of our facilities,” said OJJ Deputy Sec. Bill Somers. “We recognize that we face some major challenges with staff and with the Bridge City center itself, but we are working every day to address them for the safety of our young people, staff and the outside communities. My team and I are also grateful for our partnership with the Department of Corrections, Louisiana State Police, and other government agencies standing by to assist as we move forward, as well as the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office for all their hard work.

Act 167, the supplemental law passed at the 2022 regular legislative session, provides OJJ with $5 million for improvements that can be accessed immediately so changes can be made. Additional funding is available through Capital Outlay that can also be used for improvements, planning, construction, renovation, procurement and equipment.

The Office of Juvenile Justice operates four secure care facilities statewide: The Bridge City Center for Youth, Swanson Center for Youth in Monroe, Swanson Center for Youth in Columbia, and Acadiana Center for Youth.

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