A federal judge gave final approval Friday to two agreements for broad reform at the New Orleans juvenile detention center.
Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle’s approval of the consent decrees legally obligates the city and Orleans Parish School Board to improve conditions and increase educational resources at the jail-like facility, a holding center for juvenile offenders euphemistically named the Youth Study Center.
The reform comes as a result of a lawsuit filed by the nonprofit Juvenile Justice Project on behalf of youth held in the center after hurricane Katrina. The suit alleges that youth housed in the facility were left in storm-battered cells 23 hours a day without adequate food, medical care or security.
The consent decrees essentially resolves the lawsuit, though the court will continue to monitor compliance with the agreements and can take further action if necessary.
“This decision brings with it hope for young people,” Juvenile Justice Project Director Dana Kaplan said in a press release. “Ensuring youth receive the quality education, proper mental healthcare, and other needed resources they were previously denied will improve public safety for New Orleans as a whole.”
Still, questions remain over how the city will pay for a new center, and where it will be built.
City budget documents price the center at $27.7 million. FEMA has obligated only $15.6 million for a replacement facility, and the city has so far earmarked only $1.2 million in bond money. The city must raise another $11 million to build the center up to the specifications required by the consent decree.
The Youth Study Center now operates in a repaired portion of the pre-storm facility in Gentilly, on Milton Street. Staff members work in nearby modular buildings. Neighbors don’t want the facility to rise again on Milton Street and no other site has been identified. Costs likely will rise if the city has to buy land to build on. Furthermore, debate continues over the best way to build a state-of-the-art high-security detention center that also educates children.
Last week, the City Council delayed appropriating money for the Youth Study Center until these issues are resolved.