Probation services for youth in Louisiana’s Juvenile Justice system are on the chopping block. If hit with an $11 million cut outlined in the current budget, Deputy Secretary James Bueche says his department would be forced to layoff more than 100 employees who work with kids on probation.
"As a condition of probation," explaines Bueche, "we have to monitor certain requirements. It could be anything from going to school, to curfew, to random drug screenings."
Without the staff to carry out that supervision, Bueche warns the probation program would have to be eliminated. That would impact most of the kids in the system. 75 percent of youth under OJJ’s supervision are on probation.
"If we’re not able to provide that service, what we’re afraid of, and what historically has happened — those kids wind up deeper in the system," he says.
Kids on probation are typically considered low-risk. But if that program is no longer an option for a judge to consider, the Department is concerned those low-risk youth would end up in a detention facility typically reserved for more serious offenders.
"That's not the most appropriate placement for that child," he warns, "but if the court has no other option, they may look at that as a possible outcome and placement."
A recent legislative audit shows the state’s juvenile detention centers are already struggling to meet current demands. High employee turnover is jeopardizing safety in those facilities. The number of fights went up more than 50 percent over a four-year period.
"There's a direct correlation between increase in population and increase in altercations, increase in staff assaults," Bueche notes.
OJJ is required by law to provide probation supervision, so Bueche isn't sure what happens if they can't afford the program. For now, he hopes lawmakers can reach an agreement to fix the budget gap and prevent cuts to his department.