BOSSIER PARISH, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Unlocked doors and few consequences, if any, are giving youth housed in a Bossier City center a prime opportunity to walk out the door with no resistance from staff.

In August, at least three teens reportedly ran away from youth shelters in Bossier City. Staci Scott, Executive Director of Ware Youth Center in Coushatta, and Johnny Gray Jones Youth Shelter in Bossier City explain what the facilities are doing to keep kids safe.

Scott says that youth housed at Johhny Gray Jones come from all parts of the state. They are placed there by the Office of Juvenile Justice, Department of Children and Family Services, and the parish as truants or ungovernable youth.

“As you know, juvenile crime is up, and youth are tending to act out more, and I think parents just don’t know what to do with their kids,” Scott said. “We are getting a lot of youth. We are getting a lot of troubled youth. Some youth that probably should really be in detention, but because of bed space, they end up being placed in shelter.”

Johnny Gray Jones is not a youth detention center. It is a facility that provides shelter care. Because it is a residential facility, no guards or other security measures are in place. That allows youth who are more defiant or ungovernable to simply walk out of the center.

“We’re considered a residential facility. We’re licensed by the Department of Children and Family Services as a residential facility, which means the doors are not locked. So if a kid really decides that they want to run away, there’s really not much that we can do about it.”

When there is a runaway, Scott says the center follows guidance set by DCFS, including calling the Bossier City Police Department. He says that about 70% of the youth reported as runaways are returned the same day.

Scott draws a clear distinction between the adolescents housed at Johnny Gray. She says they are not juvenile offenders.

“They are runaways, abused, neglected, ungovernable – which just means they won’t mind their parents – truancy and things along that lines. They have not been convicted of any crimes.”

The youth in the facility know the doors are unlocked, and many seize the opportunity to walk through an unlocked door. They understand that there isn’t anything that staff can do.

“As far as any kind of disciplinary measures, there’s not much we can do. Our hands are kind of tied on that.”

Safety is a significant issue when it comes to juvenile runaways. Youth face many dangers on the street. Scott says she and center staff emphasize to the teens they house that running away poses a safety threat and they could be hurt.

She says there are no disciplinary measures that the center can take to prevent juveniles housed in the facility from running away multiple times. They must follow DCFS guidelines and report the incident to the appropriate department that sent the minor to the center. Police can write the teen a runaway summons.

A recent partnership with Missouri Youth Services Institute MYSI is something Scott hopes will help them curb some of the issues juvenile facilities face. She says MYSI uses a group approach to addressing some of the problems juveniles face in state detention and shelter facilities.