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After teen murder suspect escapes twice, La. juvenile center sees upgrades

The lack of security upgrades “is very concerning,” the mayor of Baton Rouge said. “We are dealing with a facility established in 1952, designed to rehabilitate youth for less serious crimes”


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By Lara Nicholson
The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

BATON ROUGE, La. — After two escapes in two weeks at Baton Rouge’s juvenile detention center, the building is receiving much-needed upgrades to its doors, security cameras and other features, according to Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome.

The escapes began on a raucous Nov. 14 evening as guards tried to put teenagers back in their cells for bed — a fight had just broken out around 9 p.m. after an 18-year-old was transferred there from an adult facility.

Then one juvenile broke open a cell door, allowing two others to escape: 17-year-olds David Atkins and Jeremiah Green. The duo remained at large for over 24 hours before Baton Rouge police found them in a home and brought them back to the detention center.

Less than two weeks later, Atkins, who awaits trial for counts of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder, escaped again — this time with Willie Jackson, also 17, also accused of attempted second-degree murder.

One of the teens had shimmied open an exterior door shortly before midnight Saturday, according to city officials. Another juvenile ran out with him, and the two climbed onto the roof before escaping. The guards attempted to capture them and called BRPD within four minutes of their escape.

The duo was still at large as of Monday afternoon, over 24 hours since the escape. Authorities are offering a $2,000 reward to anyone who can provide information on the whereabouts of either teen.

Both escapes can be attributed to a years-long problem plaguing the detention center — a 71-year-old facility now housing more 17- and 18-year-old juveniles, some of whom are accused of violent crimes.

The lack of security upgrades “is very concerning,” Broome said Monday. “We are dealing with a facility established in 1952, designed to rehabilitate youth for less serious crimes.”

Broome’s office said work had already begun Monday on upgrading the doors, fencing, intercom system, security cameras and entry mechanisms — a task the Metro Council earmarked $2 million for over a year ago but was still in the planning and design phase at the time of this month’s first escape.

Door upgrades will be completed in the next week, according to Broome’s spokesman, while other upgrades will be implemented over the course of multiple weeks.

The two escapes aren’t the first breakouts to occur in recent years: In 2021, five boys escaped the Veterans Memorial Boulevard property after attacking a staffer, taking her keys and locking her inside a cell without a radio before two of the boys attacked guards with makeshift knives. It was the second jailbreak that year.

In February 2022, a melee broke out involving eight children, which left three of them injured and windows and doors smashed.

City-parish leaders, including Broome and District Attorney Hillar Moore, often attribute the influx of older juvenile offenders to the facility to Louisiana’s Raise the Age Act of 2019, which increased the cap on who can go to juvenile detention centers to age 18.

“We raised the age to 18 without putting the money into the infrastructure to house them, particularly those that are violent,” Moore said in an interview Monday.

But city leaders have previously called the $2-million upgrades a “Band-Aid” that doesn’t solve all the facility’s problems; those leaders say the city-parish should build a new juvenile detention center.

Councilman Darryl Hurst formed the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison and Juvenile Detention Center Task Force last month to explore the issue. The task force’s 14 members will evaluate the parish’s prison facilities and propose plans for a new detention center that’s properly able to house juveniles accused of violent crimes and able to offer rehabilitative services.

The task force toured the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison last week and plans to tour the Juvenile Detention Center next week.

“It’s like being in an underserved, divested community,” Hurst said last week after touring the parish prison. “You get used to trash piles, you get used to tire piles, and you shouldn’t get used to it. That’s what’s happening here in East Baton Rouge Parish .”

The Rev. Alexis Anderson , a member of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Reform Coalition , said she’s skeptical of what a costly new facility would bring to the table when the current facility isn’t being properly maintained.

“They’ve been pushing for the same thing since the 2000s,” Anderson said. “In that time ... you could have reconstructed or built an absolutely new building on the exact land you have right now.”

She said she’d like to see the city-parish closely analyze the facility, its staff and the incidents that take place there to understand where the current building’s pitfalls lie and to ensure proper maintenance is being conducted.


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