Tag Archive for Bridge City

Attack at the Bridge City Center for Youth raises new calls for reform

For those who are unaware, I am a native of New Orleans. This is one reason that I take the issue of juvenile justice so very seriously. All one needs is a moment on Google to see just how many hurdles we face down here ranging from the disparity in how justice is meted out according to race to the profound lack of effective facilities and trained staff.

This was thrown into very sharp relief recently when a 26 year old juvenile justice specialist was attacked in the Bridge City Center for Youth. The unnamed woman watched as inmates barricaded the door, ripped the phone from the wall, smashed her radio, and spent the next 45 minutes groping and threatening to rape her. The three youth’s involved were age 14, 15, and 16 respectively.

WDSU TV reports:

According to the Sheriff’s Office, as one of the boys cursed and taunted the woman, one of the boys was seen with his genitals exposed in front of the woman. The accused “ringleader,” Normand said, was being held in the facility on attempted murder charges.

The woman was rescued after one of the boys covered the security camera with a rug, blacking out the camera. An employee passing the video viewing room noticed the camera blacked out and alerted other counselors.

There are many troubling aspects to this, and in my opinion most of them are directly traceable to lack of funding and accountability. An editorial on NOLA.com points out many of the worrisome issues surrounding this incident:

But while the office is characterizing its response as swift, one important action didn’t happen quickly: reporting the incident to local law enforcement. The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office didn’t learn about the attack until two days after it happened, according to spokesman Col. John Fortunato. That delay is hard to understand. Even though the suspects were already in custody, local law enforcement officials surely should be alerted when a crime takes place at the center. If calling the Sheriff’s Office isn’t part of the youth center’s protocol, it should be.

Investigators also need to determine why a single female counselor was supervising 11 teenage boys on her own. Two other employees were absent, but there should be a better backup plan when there are staffing shortages.

How’s that for a direct effect of staff shortages? Having a young woman assaulted and threatened with rape. It’s a side of the equation that many don’t even consider. The editorial also touches on the aspect that I find most troublesome – how long it took for someone to notice.

The WDSU report notes that the woman was assigned to the justice dormitory because two other employees were absent. That may well be the case, but one young woman to eleven youth offenders is not a safe equation no matter how you slice it. The editorial continues:

It’s also troubling that it took nearly an hour for other staffers to realize the woman was in trouble. Another employee, who happened to be passing the video control room, noticed an inmate throwing a rug over a camera, Col. Fortunato said. Video cameras are only useful as a monitoring tool if someone is paying attention to them.

So another staffer noticed because he happened to be walking by the video monitoring room? Where were the staff that were supposed to be watching the feed? Were they downsized out of a job or were they simply neglecting their duties?

Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident for the facility. Not only that but the local law enforcement agrees with assessment that budget cuts are to blame. Maya Rodriguez of WWL TV brings us the details (keep your eyes out for Dana Kaplan, who we recently interviewed here on HE):

“The state has got to step up and provide the necessary funding to make sure that these facilities are safe and secure and that’s not what’s happening at the present time,” said Sheriff Normand. How true. His campaign to release juvenile records however is an iffy one. A number of programs like that have been being implemented across the U.S. and many of them have crashed and burned. Among others the ACLU is challenging the practice in a number of jurisdictions.

It’s easy to get mad at the offenders here, their behavior was vile there is no doubt. If we wish to effect any sort of lasting change, a way to prevent this sort of incident, then we need to look at long term solutions. That requires funding.

The really frustrating part is that funding of the proper programs now will result in both more effective programs and less overall financial expenditure. With budgets tight everywhere politicians want to show immediate savings, even if that means that the long term costs, both human and financial, will skyrocket.