CADDO PARISH, LA (KSLA) - Starting July 1st, 17-year-olds in Louisiana will be moved from adult court down to the juvenile court, and some Caddo Parish officials say they aren't ready for the change.
Caddo Juvenile Delinquency Judge Ree Casey-Jones says the Caddo Parish Juvenile Detention Center is the smallest in the state for a city this size; they are already dealing with overcrowding.
She says the 17-year-olds should be in the juvenile system because they are considered minors, but the issue is where are we going to house them.
"It's really hard because you have to decide which children have to stay and which children get a chance to go back home," said Judge Casey-Jones. "You have to see who you think will re-offend during that time of release and that's a problem."
So before the change happens, Judge Casey-Jones and other advocates are going before the Caddo Parish Commission to ask for money to expand in order to house more teens.
"We have to be able to make sure that the children have all of their needs met here. We don't want to just send them out and hope for the best, that's definitely not what we want to do and that's not what we're here for," said Casey-Jones.
Caddo Parish Director of Juvenile Services Clay Walker says they are working to help reach the juveniles before they make it to the detention center.
"Anywhere where we can remove kids from the detention center that don't truly need to be there and open up those beds for what we're expecting are going to be older kids with maybe more serious charges that would be more appropriate for detention."
Walker says they are adding more probation officers and working with the district attorney's office and law enforcement to divert youths to other programs and keep them out of the court system.
The DA's diversion program would help divert the teens to rehabilitation programs to address their minor offenses. It includes things like theft and fighting in school.
Walker says he would like to work with the DA's office to expand the program to include more offenses.
"We want to track all those kids and make sure that they're not reoffending so that we're not just kicking the can down the road. that we're actually maintaining public safety in Caddo Parish," said Walker.
The misdemeanor referral center is operated by the Rutherford House, according to Walker.
He says it is a place where law enforcement officers can take juveniles for misdemeanors to get help and some rehabilitation before their parents pick them up at the end of the day instead of being arrested and going through the detention center.
Walker also says the diversion and referral programs help keep juveniles who commit minor crimes from being negatively influenced by those who have committed more serious crimes.
Depending on whether they get the money to expand from the commission or not Walker says they are going to do what they have to do to make things work.
"I can promise you that we will have the best plan that we can put forward based on the funding we have," said Walker.
He says they will report to the commission and keep them posted on if things are working or not and re-evaluate as necessary.