Teen: Jetson changed his life
A 16-year-old, Brodrick E., said Wednesday he would never have pictured himself singing in a choir.
“I used to be thugging it out on the street,” he said.
But his street life ended six months and 29 days ago, Broderick said, when a juvenile judge sent him to Jetson Center for Youth.
“Now look at me,” he said. “I am singing in a choir.”
The lanky teen’s story made the crowd of about 140 start laughing.
The choir performance and Brodrick’s speech were part of the Office of Juvenile Justice’s celebration of five years as an independent state agency.
The office was under the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections until 2004 when, during Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s administration, it was made a state cabinet-level agency — meaning from that point on it would only have to answer to the governor.
The celebration, held at Jetson, included speeches, the choir performance, lunch and a tour of Jetson. The audience included state legislators, judges, and even police chiefs.
Brodrick, whose identity is protected by the state office because he is a juvenile, performed in the Jetson Rising Star choir.
He told the crowd that one of the reasons he changed from a “thug” was because of the therapeutic treatment he is now receiving at Jetson.
Deputy Secretary Mary Livers told the crowd that Jetson and OJJ have changed over the last few years.
In 2003, the state passed legislation that called for sweeping reform of the state’s juvenile justice system. Since then, critics have said, the department has not moved toward reforms or has not moved forward fast enough.
“Change is hard,” Livers said. “At times it’s been rocky, but there has been a lot of great changes.”
She noted that Jetson has been transformed from a correctional facility to a therapeutic facility — following the Missouri model, which is widely recognized as one of the best juvenile systems in the nation.
Jordan Horton, 20, who’s in Jetson and has been in state custody since he was 16, said the facility has changed over the years he’s been there.
He was sent there for armed robbery and is set to be released in the summer of 2010.
In the past, Horton said, he protested what was going at the facility by doing such things as sitting on roofs.
“Now we circle up,” he said, referring to one of the therapeutic approaches used to find out what’s bothering the teens.
“It’s come a long way around here,” Horton said. “Before they started treatment, it was all corrections.”
But other teens at the facility told The Advocate during Wednesday’s tour that not all has changed.
They alleged there are still some problems with guards being rough, the teens are still shackled and handcuffed — something not considered therapeutic, and at least one claimed he had never met a probation officer who had signed the monthly reports that he also signed indicating she had visited with him.
But Livers said the reforms at Jetson are “still a work in progress.”
East Baton Rouge Parish Juvenile Court Judge Kathleen S. Richey, who attended Wednesday’s program, said much of Jetson is the same as it was years ago.
Some of the teenagers Richey saw Wednesday are among those she sent there after they violated laws.
“The physical plant is the same as it was 10 years ago,” Richey said. “And the formal speeches are also the same.”
“But what is significantly different is the kids,” she added. “I see hope in them and that is something you didn’t see 10 years ago. They actually have hope that they’ll be able to make it once they’re released.”
What concerns Richey is whether there will be enough services to support the teens once they are released.
“They need support from the community in order to be successful,” she said.