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M.R. v. Office of Juvenile Justice.

The SPLC filed a petition seeking the “immediate and unconditional release ” of a 15-year-old boy who was illegally held in a Louisiana juvenile prison without a court hearing required under state law.

A Madison Parish judge committed the child to the secure custody of the Office of Juvenile Justice. At the time of the filing, the boy, who was charged with simple burglary at 13, should have been brought back before a judge 11 months earlier to determine whether he had made enough progress to be safely released, as state law requires.

A child incarcerated for a nonviolent felony cannot be held legally for more than nine months unless the state proves at a court hearing that continued incarceration is needed to further the child’s rehabilitation.

Louisiana law requires that young people convicted of low-level crimes receive frequent hearings to determine the progress of their rehabilitation and the effectiveness – or ineffectiveness – of continued incarceration. These legally required hearings help ensure that children in the juvenile court system are released at the point when they have been rehabilitated and there is no public safety benefit to continued incarceration.

Such hearings were not uniformly held across the state for all children who were entitled to them, according to the habeas petition. Many children – like the 15-year-old in this case – were being deprived of their freedom, and their access to courts, based solely on whether the jurisdiction where they were prosecuted followed the law. Research shows that long periods of incarceration for young people exacerbate recidivism and increase challenges to education and employment.