Lafayette assessment center working to stem juvnile crime

By Billy Gunn
November 29, 2013

LAFAYETTE — Lafayette Parish youths ages 10 to 16 who are disruptive in class or headed toward becoming lifelong criminals now enter the juvenile justice system through one point, where they’re assessed, sent to an appropriate government agency or nonprofit for help, then tracked to measure the system’s effectiveness.

The doors to the Lafayette Parish Sheriff Office’s Juvenile Justice Assessment Center opened softly in September. The only notice to the public was through word of mouth, said Kennis Metoyer, assessment center administrator and manager for the Sheriff’s Office’s Youth Services Division.

“When the doors opened, they poured in,” Metoyer said. “It took off from the second we opened the doors.”

There have always been programs to help youths in Lafayette, but there was never a department tasked with being the starting point, referral center and official program tracker, said Julio Naudin, a communications official for Sheriff Mike Neustrom.

“Everybody was doing their own thing,” Naudin said.

Officials at the center, located at the Sheriff’s Office Community Corrections Campus at 100 Poydras St. in Lafayette, began in September to assess the youths arrested, pinpoint their problems and find help for them and their families.

Not all chose to participate. Some opted to keep their court dates and take their chances in the criminal justice system. But most tried the new program, according to statistics provided by the Sheriff’s Office.

Of the 274 kids arrested in August, September and October, 193 have so far been kept from trouble by going through the new system. That represents 70 percent of those arrested.

During the same period, 28, or 10 percent, of those who went through the program have been rearrested.

Another 53 youths chose not to take part in the diversion system. The Sheriff’s Office did not note the number of the youths opting out of the diversion program who were rearrested.

“When they come through the door, we tell them about the programs that we have,” Metoyer said.

An assessment is made by an on-site professional who works for the Sheriff’s Office or one, like a child psychiatrist, who works as a consultant. Then the center acts like a distribution center, referring the youthful offenders to an array of Sheriff’s Office programs.

Where they’re referred to depends on the behaviors they exhibit. Youths with drug problems are sent to the Sheriff’s Office’s Milestones Program. Kids who fight frequently go through anger-management classes conducted by a consultant. Youths having problems after someone close to them dies are referred to Healing House, a Lafayette nonprofit.

Metoyer said the Sheriff’s Office also is talking with the Lafayette Parish School System to establish a Teen Intervene program to stem drug use before it gets to a level where it has to be treated by a program like Milestones.

The assessment center plans, one day soon, to start accepting kids dropped off at the Poydras Street center by parents who don’t know what else to do.

Rob Reardon, director of corrections in Lafayette Parish, said the new system is the first to record all the arrests of juveniles, and the system could take off the streets very violent youths whose multiple arrests fell through the bureaucratic cracks.

“A kid could be arrested by one local police agency without them ever knowing that they (the youth) may have a history with another” agency, Reardon said.

Naudin said it’ll take time to tweak the systems at the assessment center and study the outcomes.

“A year from now it’s going to be real interesting to see what happens,” he said.