[StBernard] Christmas Wishes for Louisiana

Westley Annis Westley at da-parish.com
Sat Dec 22 09:26:09 EST 2007

Christmas Wishes for Louisiana
A column by Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco

As my family gathers to celebrate the Christmas holiday - my last as your Governor - I must pause to consider this season of giving, and what I have been able to contribute while in office. One of the gifts I leave the state is a broader array of services for families, and a juvenile justice system that better meets the needs of our youth and has become a national model for reform.

As a candidate for governor, I promised you we would reform the juvenile justice system, and once in office I immediately acted to keep that promise. One of my first acts in office was to separate the juvenile justice/youth services system from the adult correctional system. This change solidified my commitment to public safety, while re-shaping Louisiana's juvenile justice system to focus on treatment and rehabilitation.

Reforming the system included a new approach to secure care, regionalization to keep at-risk youth at home or near home while receiving services and maintaining public safety, and building a continuum of care in communities to allow the concept of regionalization to succeed.

When we began, our juvenile justice system was considered one of the nation's worst. The U.S. Justice Department sued the state in 1998, saying we failed to provide adequate services to incarcerated youth. With hard work by dedicated professionals and stakeholders in all areas of juvenile justice and the support of the legislature, in a few short years we began transforming our system into one that is widely considered a national model for reform. That effort worked, and in 2005 the lawsuit was dismissed.

In 2004, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Missouri Youth Services Institute began working with the Office of Youth Development to develop a new approach to secure care, based on a therapeutic, treatment and child-centered model. Today Bridge City Center for Youth operates completely under the new system, also being phased in at Swanson Center for Youth in Monroe and Jetson Center for Youth in Baker. The system treats youth with dignity and respect, while holding them accountable for their actions and decisions. As a result, the number of youth housed in secure care facilities has dramatically decreased, with almost 75 percent fewer incarcerated today than in 2000.

In 2004, more money was spent for secure care than for community-based services. Today the figures are reversed. OYD contracts with service providers statewide to deliver treatment and care for youth, to prevent them from court contact in the first place, and keep non-secure residential youth housed closer to home.

I am proud that, on my watch, we have made significant, meaningful differences in the lives of our most vulnerable children and families. In the end, all Louisiana citizens will benefit. Safe communities, well-educated young people, families who are secure in their homes, well-paid jobs in the industries of the future - these are my wishes for Louisiana citizens.


The Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation
Louisiana's Fund for Louisiana's People

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