Just in time to create a campaign issue comes a warning from the Caddo Parish Juvenile Court.
Democrat Juvenile Judge Paul Young sounded the alarm to local media about the impact of criminal justice changes over a year ago. When taking affect Mar. 1, 17-year-olds accused of nonviolent crimes who previously would have gone through the adult system instead went into the juvenile system.
In Caddo Parish, one of just a few parishes – all with large populations – with its own dedicated family or juvenile court, this means increased processing into the Caddo Parish Juvenile Detention Center. And last week for the first time it went over capacity, with Young announcing as a result he freed a juvenile he ordinarily would have had held.
He warned the problem could become worse. The next phase of the altered law will put all 17-year-olds into the juvenile system starting Jul. 1, 2020. The trend appears that bumping up to the center’s 24-bed capacity will become the rule rather than the exception, with the facility in recent months typically having 15-20 of the highest level/most risky juveniles in beds nightly.
Thus, Young again called for the Caddo Parish Commission, which oversees the center, to expand its capacity. The Commission already has turned down that offer once, with current president Democrat Stormy Gage-Watts saying the $12 million price tag to double its size and the $3 million-plus a year extra claimed to run it the parish can’t afford without raising taxes in the parish with the second-highest property taxes in the state. It already imposes a 1.97 mill property tax to fund the Juvenile Court and detention apparatus that brings in around $3.5 million annually.
But this is another sign of how parish government continues to misallocate and fritter away money. A decade ago over two years it took home $30 million in lease bonus payments for Haynesville Shale finds on parish property, and royalties and related interest payments initially approached $2 million annually. That has tailed off since, but the parish in its last year made over half a million in royalties (and almost as much from a building rental assigned to the oil and gas fund). However, the account’s balance today has fallen to the $5 million range, with the rest raided for other purposes.
The real pot of money lies in the general fund, investment reserves of which increased greater than six-fold in the past decade to $43 million. Of that, over $35 million remains available for recommitting by the Commission whenever it likes (currently sitting idly for “contingencies”).
The Commission easily could decide to expand the Center by 12 beds, bonding that out and paid for by the oil and gas fund’s revenues. The remaining balance, which wouldn’t cover operating expenses, could be met with the nearly $700,000 annual investment earnings from the general fund.
Of course, the Commission raids the oil and gas fund every year and uses the general fund investment earnings for other purposes. But if concerned with not slowly drawing down reserves, the Commission could stop promising funds to private developers, three-wheeled vehicle manufacturers, and nonprofits and afford the expanded center while holding the line on taxes.
The parish can expand the Juvenile Detention Center without raising taxes. Candidates for Parish Commission – one of whom is Young’s son Republican John-Paul Young – should promote this idea through their candidacies.