For over a year now, Juvenile Judge Paul Young has been petitioning the Caddo Parish Commission for money to expand the Juvenile Justice Center. Young says he needs 12 million dollars to add another pod, so he can house more youth criminals. He says the additional beds are needed now more than ever because of a new law that says 17 year olds must be sent to juvenile jails. That request has sparked a firestorm of debate.

And I feel bad for Judge Young. I know, at the end of the day, he's trying to do what is best for the kids. He wants to make sure they are safe and have hopes of reform. He also wants to make sure he's not kicking out a child that needs help or send one back on the streets who might commit a serious crime or kill someone. It is a tough, tough spot.

I also completely understand the flip side of the argument. People I respect, like Bishop Larry Brandon, have come out against expanding the facility. They say instead of jail, these kids just need guidance and mentorship. And Bishop Brandon for instance, walks the walk. He has a "school" for boys where they get discipline, guidance and education. And, for the most part, the "bad boys" that go in, come out as well adjusted young men.

So, with all that being said, what is the answer? And, like most things in life, there is no clear cut, right answer. Some people just can't be saved. They've made the decision that they're going to be an outlaw, a gangster, a whatever...and there's no fixing the situation.

On the other hand, we have a system that locks kids up for things like fighting which can give them a criminal record and sets them on the wrong path for life. Because, studies show, those that get a criminal record early, typically keep one for life. It sort of narrows the path and options they have. A simple mistake can change the outcome for life.

For instance, I know of a child who did something stupid at school. Nobody got hurt. No property was damaged. Nothing serious happened. Don't get me wrong, it was something that needed to be addressed but not something deserving of criminal charges. The boy just had some...let's just say issues that needed to be addressed. But, instead of helping the boy, the system had the boy arrested and threw him in jail. This young, misguided boy, who didn't harm anyone, was thrown in with hard cases. Not to go into too many details, but this story had a tragic ending.

Personally, I think the whole system needs to be fixed. Instead of throwing kids in jail and giving them criminal records right off the bat, we should put them in the hands of folks like Bishop Brandon first. Someone that can nurture them, educate them and give them much needed guidance. Because, to me, that's the one step we as a culture seem to miss over and over again. Just because someone does something bad or stupid, it doesn't mean that they are bad or stupid. Most of the time there is something else there that needs to be addressed.

But, if they fall off the path one too many times or have really committed a serious crime (shootings, etc.) , then you hand them over to Judge Young, give them a criminal record and teach them some hard lessons. Even with all that said, Judge Young deserves every penny he's asking for and more. Because, beyond just the jail, Young and his staff does try to help these kids. If you've never been out to his facility, its nothing short of amazing. I just want them to save those lessons for kids that are bit more hardened or unruly.

We should make every effort to make these kids a functional part of society before tossing them in the slammer. 

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