office of juvenile justice
Gov. Jeff Landry is expected to appoint former juvenile detention center executive Kenny Loftin to run the Office of Juvenile Justice. (Julie O'Donoghue/Louisiana Illuminator)

Former head of youth center with problematic past to run Louisiana juvenile justice, sources say

BATON ROUGE (Louisiana Illuminator) — Gov. Jeff Landry has picked the longtime leader of a controversial juvenile detention center in north Louisiana where staff members faced allegations of sexual abuse, violence and psychological torture to run the Louisiana’s Office of Juvenile Justice, according to two people who work in juvenile justice. They declined to comment on the record for fear of professional retaliation.

MORE | Task force discusses “eye opening” conditions at state’s juvenile justice facilities, raise the age debate

Kenneth “Kenny” Loftin ran Ware Youth Center in Coushatta from its opening in 1993 to 2015 and again from 2021 to 2022. He also served on the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Parole after being appointed by former Gov. John Bel Edwards in Edwards’ first term and ran, unsuccessfully, for sheriff in Red River Parish.

The Ware detention center was the focus of a lengthy investigation into rampant child abuse and neglect by The New York Times and the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism. 

“In interviews and documents, 42 people at Ware held over the last 25 years described being sexually abused by staff members,” the October 2022 article reported. “In all, they identified 30 staff members who had sexually abused children at Ware.” 

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Loftin declined to comment for this story on Wednesday morning. Landry’s office refused to answer questions about Loftin’s appointment or confirm he had been picked for the position.  

While no accusations of physical violence or sexual assault were made against Loftin personally in The New York Times story, the report includes many allegations of rape, choking and other violence by other Ware staff against detained children while Loftin was in charge of the facility. 

“Former residents and employees, in interviews, said Ware’s leaders were largely indifferent, even apathetic, in the face of abuse allegations,” the Times reported. 

Specific accusations included claims from eight formerly incarcerated girls and three staff members against one former employee, Mallory Parson, over alleged sexual assault taking place from 2005 to 2011. At least four of the girls accused Parson of rape, but none of them recalled investigations into his behavior taking place, according to the news report. 

Another longtime Ware manager, Raymond Lloyd, was accused of choking a child in custody at Ware until she was unconscious in 2021. Lloyd was still working at the facility in late 2022, when the investigation was first published in The New York Times.

State Inspector General Stephen Street said a government investigation into Ware is ongoing. A firm timeline for its completion isn’t clear.

State Sen. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, has expressed concern about Loftin’s appointment.

“The reports about Ware from the NYT were beyond disturbing. OJJ clearly needs wholesale reform,” Duplessis wrote in a text message Wednesday. “If Mr. Loftin was in charge of Ware at that time, there are serious questions about whether this is a move in the direction toward improving OJJ.”

office of juvenile justice
Gov. Jeff Landry is expected to appoint former juvenile detention center executive Kenny Loftin to run the Office of Juvenile Justice. (Julie O’Donoghue/Louisiana Illuminator)

Political connections

The article suggests Loftin was initially picked to run Ware because of his close relationship with former state Sen. Don Kelly, a Democrat from Natchitoches Parish who was close to former Gov. Edwin Edwards. Kelly helped set up Ware, which is run by a state board made up of local law enforcement officials and judges, and helped direct tens of millions of dollars of public money to the facility over several years. 

As the new head of the Office of Juvenile Justice, Loftin would oversee the agency that has traditionally provided Ware with most of its funding and is partially in charge of making sure it follows state laws and government regulations.

One former state juvenile justice official, Glenn Holt, told The New York Times Loftin had little respect for state oversight of Ware when he was running the center, describing state inspections as a waste of time. The news investigation also revealed the Ware did not always report sexual abuse allegations made against staff at the facility to the state as required.

Loftin’s ascent comes at an interesting time for the Office of Juvenile Justice’s relationship with Wade. The state had contracted with Wade to house all of the girls and young women put into the juvenile justice system’s secure care program under a contract Loftin helped secure for the detention center in 2009. But the Office of Juvenile Justice abruptly ended that arrangement with the facility last September. 

Outgoing state juvenile justice director Curtis Nelson said his agency could not afford to pay the additional $600,000 Ware requested this year to house just 24 young girls and women. The detention center was already receiving $2.9 million annually to take care of that same group. 

Ware had also erroneously enrolled the girls in Medicaid to cover their health care needs, even though the federal government prohibits incarcerated people from receiving Medicaid benefits, Nelson said. As a result, the state had to absorb an extra $2.5 million to $3 million per year for the girls’ health care expenses. 

Even with this contract canceled, Ware isn’t sitting empty. The state still pays the facility to run juvenile justice substance abuse programs and group homes on the site. Some of those contracts would likely fall under Loftin’s control at the Office of Juvenile Justice.

Parole board past

Loftin’s time on the parole board may also give insight into his approach to criminal justice issues. He was considered one of the more conservative and rigid board members appointed by John Bel Edwards.

Loftin was perceived to be more reluctant to grant release to incarcerated people than most of his other peers on the board. Notably, he was one of two members in 2018 who denied release to Henry Montgomery , then a 71-year-old incarcerated person whose Supreme Court case was instrumental in extending the possibility of freedom to hundreds of prisoners across the country.

A model prisoner, Montgomery served more than  50 years behind bars after being convicted in the 1963 killing of East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Deputy Charles Hunt when Montgomery was 17. He was given life without parole, meaning he was supposed to die incarcerated without the possibility of release. 

In response to an appeal from Montgomery, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that he and other people sentenced to a life of imprisonment as minors needed to be given an opportunity for freedom. The court said teenagers don’t have fully developed brains and should not necessarily be held responsible for the rest of their lives for actions they take as children. Their cases require reexamination. 

Montgomery was eventually granted parole, on his third try, when Loftin was no longer a member of the parole panel weighing his case.

Editor’s Note: The following article from author Julie O’Donoghue was originally published by the Louisiana Illuminator, an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization with a mission to cast light on how decisions in Baton Rouge are made and how they affect the lives of everyday Louisianians. Read more from The Louisiana

One Response

  1. This Kenneth Loftin character sounds sketchy af. He’s obviously very well politically connected…maybe not the best choice there Landry.

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