- Associated Press - Sunday, April 20, 2014

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) - Caddo Parish authorities say state cuts left a $2.9 million hole in the juvenile justice system. The parish transferred $3.1 million from its Criminal Justice Fund to plug the hole but there’s too little money to grow or adapt, says Director of Juvenile Services Clay Walker.

Some cuts affect intervention and counseling programs for at-risk youth, he told The Times (https://bit.ly/1jqu9jQ ).

He said the state also eliminated a grant that paid for the parish’s Mental Health Assessment Center. Instead, it contracted with a private company to manage behavioral health care services for at-risk youth and adults on Medicaid.

Walker says that company is good for the state as a whole - but eliminated parish staffers trained to assess youth for underlying mental illnesses or substance abuse.

“When the state decided for the good of the whole state that we needed to switch to Magellan, we lost those services. We do not have the funding in juvenile (services),” he said.

“On Jan. 1 of every single year, juvenile starts $3 million in the hole,” Walker said. He noted that a tax approved in 1957 for juvenile services has been rolled back every four years to keep the total collected stable.

The money could be used to help the department expand and adapt to societal changes, he said.

For example, Walker said some teen and pre-teen runaways can end up as prostitutes. Girls who end up in the parish’s detention center for those reasons often exhibit a lack of impulse control and anger management issues.

“We need a program to adapt to that. When the millage was created in 1957, they were not having that problem. We are now,” Walker said.

“In the ‘80s and ‘90s there were gangs. They had to adapt to the gang problem. We now need to adapt to this sort of new 21st century problem and because we have a funding deficit, we can’t.”

Caddo Parish Commissioner Stephanie Lynch agrees rolling back the millage probably isn’t the best idea.

“Rolling it back doesn’t really help - you’re taking the same amount of money but your expenses are going up,” Lynch said. “I think the problem with juvenile (services) is that it doesn’t have a dedicated tax for operations. Every other fund does. The money has to come from somewhere and right now it’s coming from taxes that have been rededicated and a millage that was put in place for the building but not the operation of it.”

Lynch also said the department needs to look at streamlining operations and whether there are any areas where the budget could be cut.

“They still want a six or seven percent raise every year,” she said. In the meantime, Lynch said, the parish also is working toward hiring a grant writer who could find federal money the parish might tap.

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Information from: The Times, https://www.shreveporttimes.com

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