BATON ROUGE, La.—High employee turnover has made it difficult for the Office of Juvenile Justice to properly monitor Louisiana's youth prisons, according to a new audit raising safety concerns about the lock-up facilities.
The review by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera's office, released Monday, says turnover in the youth prisons—known as secure care facilities—has steadily increased since the 2012-13 financial year. Auditors say that makes it difficult for the Office of Juvenile Justice to maintain legally required staffing ratios, and they warned that research shows a constant churn of staff can destabilize the facilities, worsening violence.
"Appropriate staffing is necessary to ensure proper supervision and a safe environment," auditors wrote.
The Bridge City facility in southeast Louisiana has a turnover rate that tops 62 percent, while turnover at the Swanson Center for Youth in Monroe has reached 30 percent.
The audit found fighting is on the rise, along with the use of physical restraints of youth, and the prison facilities aren't always made to correct safety-related issues identified in monitoring. The use of room confinement as a punishment is on the rise at the Bridge City Center for Youth, even though that goes against identified best practices, auditors wrote.
Louisiana has four secure care facilities, housing about 276 juveniles at any time, according to Purpera's office. A fifth facility, the Acadiana Center for Youth in Bunkie, has been built, but the state hasn't paid the operational costs to open it.
The Office of Juvenile Justice spent $45 million on the youth prisons in the budget year that ended in June 2017, an average of $429 per bed per day.
The youth lock-up for females, the Ware Youth Center in Red River Parish, has looser monitoring rules, according to Purpera's office, which warned that "female youth are not receiving the same protection and standard of care as males in secure care facilities."
In a written response, the Office of Juvenile Justice agreed with the auditors' recommendations for improvement and said it's working to enact them.
"OJJ is committed to providing the appropriate treatment for these youth in a safe and secure environment for both staff and youth," wrote agency Deputy Secretary James Bueche.
The agency, however, is at risk of sizable budget cuts in the new budget year starting July 1, which could exacerbate staffing challenges.
From 2010 through 2015, during former Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration, the Office of Juvenile Justice didn't perform quality assurance reviews of the facilities, according to Purpera's office.
Those reviews resumed in June 2016, during Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration, but the legislative auditor's office said the agency didn't make sure that the youth prisons corrected all the safety problems found within six months.
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