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|An example of leadership|
Known as a fair but tough prosecutor, 4th Judicial District Attorney Jerry Jones could be described as persistent these days as well.
That much was evident last week when Gov. Bobby Jindal paid a visit to northeast Louisiana to announce the state would appropriate some $6.2 million to establish a juvenile behavioral facility on the grounds of Swanson Correctional Center for Youth in southern Monroe.
Jindal's announcement that the state would make available the money to build the behavioral facility marked a turning point, if you will, in a project Jones has been working on for 18 years, or roughly from the beginning of his first term as district attorney for Morehouse and Ouachita parishes.
Appearing at a news conference at Swanson where Jindal unveiled the state's plans to fund the juvenile behavioral project, a visibly emotional Jones made his case why it's in our best interest to intervene in a wayward kid's life. He says we must intervene before a young man or young woman embarks on a pattern of behavior society deems unacceptable, or unlawful. Of course, in time, that behavior will lead a young person to prison. Eventually.
That's where Jones' vision, or his project, to build a juvenile behavioral facility comes into play.
Serving the entire region and operated by the Louisiana Office of Youth Development, the facility will give judges an option in dealing with young people who run afoul of the law. Instead of sending youthful offenders to prison where they most likely will learn nothing but how to become career criminals, judges will have the option of ordering the offenders to spend some time at the behavioral facility at Swanson.
There, the youth will be housed in a secure environment, or removed from an environment at home, which, most likely, played a significant role in the young man's or young woman's unlawful behavior.
Working in conjunction with LSU Medical School, youthful offenders will be evaluated to determine the proper course of action to turn a young person from serving as a thorn in society's hind side into a productive participant in it. Psychiatric counseling, counseling for drug and/or alcohol addition and other means will be employed to treat, or reform, offenders.
As Jones noted, housing a youthful offender in a traditional prison setting is far different, or far more costly, than incarcerating an adult.
For roughly $30 a day the state can clothe, feed and house an adult law breaker. On the other hand, it cost as much money to incarcerate a youth for a year in Louisiana as it does to send four young men or young women to Harvard College.
That's a heck of note, or a great deal of the taxpayers' money, which could be more wisely spent on education, the environment, workforce development or building roads and bridges. That's a tidy sum of money, too, that could be passed along to the people in the form of tax cut.
In reflecting upon his efforts to see the juvenile behavioral facility become a reality, Jones went out of his way to recognize Jindal, who, according to Jones, has a firm grasp on what's needed to bring about real reform in dealing with juveniles whose lives could go either way, good or bad.
"Bobby Jindal's enthusiasm for juvenile justice reform is amazing," Jones said. "I believe Gov. Jindal and his administration will completely reform juvenile justice in Louisiana."
"His commitment is total," Jones said.
Those are pretty strong comments delivered by a man who has spent the better part of the past 20 years of his life prosecuting criminals, young and old.
There's more to it, tough.
What Jindal and Jones are doing on the juvenile justice reform front is what affective public officials do in acting proactively on a particular problem instead of reacting to it.
In other words, it's called leadership.
And it's refreshing to witness it from time to time.