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Violence Mars Louisiana Experiment in Juvenile Rehabilitation

Three years after Louisiana opened what it touted as a kinder, gentler model of juvenile rehabilitation, its new approach to juvenile justice after decades of criticism of its harsh system has turned into another unruly, understaffed mess, The Advocate reports. The Acadiana Center for Youth in Bunkie, La., has been the scene of large-scale fights and other disorder, according to hundreds of pages of incident reports over the course of a year. “The vision for the Acadiana Center for Youth…was that it would be a place where people from all over the country could come see how Louisiana was doing juvenile justice, because we were going to get it right," said Mary Livers, former head of the Office of Juvenile Justice from 2008 to 2016. "We’re, sadly, far from that today.”

Acadiana was designed to look and operate more like a school than a prison, following the Missouri Model of rehabilitation. OJJ's current head, Bill Sommers, said Acadiana and other youth jails in the system need more resources for security and services. He cited plans to beef up security at Acadiana, but refused to answer questions about particular incidents. In one July 2021 incident, teens from two dormitories fought with shanks in a hallway. Months later, some traveled through a ceiling to attack a rival dorm. Again and again, staff uncovered homemade weapons, tattoo guns and cigarette lighters, among other contraband. Reports show many days when school was canceled because there weren't enough staffers, or things had just gotten too unruly. One state legislator critical of Acadiana, which is in her district, said "rehabilitation isn't the focus. Survival is the focus."


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