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'A very depressing building:' EBR Juvenile Detention Center, Parish Prison could finally get upgrades

3 months 3 days 12 hours ago Tuesday, March 19 2024 Mar 19, 2024 March 19, 2024 9:08 PM March 19, 2024 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - Tuesday afternoon, city leaders explored challenges the Juvenile Detention Center and East Baton Rouge Parish Prison are facing.

Watch live newscasts here. 

Time and time again, deteriorating facilities are blamed for teenagers escaping from the East Baton Rouge Parish Juvenile Detention Center— which is more than 70 years old. City leaders say the sites are dilapidated and need attention to meet national standards. 

Last year, 17-year-old suspected killer David Atkins escaped from the juvenile center twice in a matter of weeks. At the time, Mayor President Sharon Weston Broome insisted a new facility was needed to keep the public safe. 

Cathy Fontenot is a warden with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s office. Fontenot says there are more than 500 inmates being held at facilities outside of East Baton Rouge Parish because there is constant maintenance needed.

We can't have inmates in cell blocks that of course don't have running water and also the toilets don't work, or the plumbing is coming up through the floors,” Fontenot said. “It will take all of the maintenance people in all of Baton Rouge to come and attack these two facilities to get us to where we would have to keep sending people out of parish.”

A video touring the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison showed outdated appliances, mold and mildew spreading from cracks, exposed wires and rusted fixtures. The majority of the site dates back to the 1960s, and one building was built in the '80s. East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said since first being elected sheriff in 2007, he’s advocated for the change.

"It's just a very depressing building, and I don't know how these people go to work there everyday and do what they do. When you're trying to reach inmates, and trying to rehabilitate them, it's not conducive to that either," Gautreaux said.

Sources said Atkins first managed to escape from the juvenile facility when he moved through a piece of machinery and climbed through a hole in the wall. Two months after his second escape, Atkins was killed near the corner of Washington Avenue and North 26th Street. 

Juvenile Court Judge Gale Grover supports new facilities for teens and adults. Judge Grover says in building a new facility, leaders need to consider mental health services for the juveniles and how that will impact recidivism.

“Having a new facility that provides the services for the rehabilitation, even for a short term facility matters,” Grover said. “Having a new facility is not just about brick and mortar, but it is about how we treat our young people, how we treat employees that serve the young people. It impacts what goes on inside of the courtroom.”

As far as the price of tearing down a building with all new facilities, District 5 Metro Councilmember Darryl Hurst says that’s unclear, and the price depends on what kind of rehabilitation services the spaces offer. Hurst is the president of the task force on reform for both of the facilities. 

“It depends on what model you use,” Hurst said. "Can we share services between both facilities? What are the ACA guidelines, and what guidelines do we plan to follow.”

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