In response to a letter from the Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) to Louisiana Juvenile Court judges stating that OJJ cannot accept any more youth into their care, Gina Womack, the Executive Director of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC), issued the following statement:
We are cautiously optimistic that this dire situation is an opportunity for the Office of Juvenile Justice to take a different approach. It is way past time to stop the flow of Black and brown children into this dehumanizing and damaging system and to send kids home, the majority of whom are in prison for non-violent offenses. It’s also unfortunate that it took a crisis to force the state’s hand.
We know that what is best for our young people is that they receive holistic services and supports in their communities. It is encouraging to see that OJJ recognizes that a majority of youth would be better served to continue their healing in spaces that prioritize treatment instead of putting youth in cages – a fact that families, youth advocates, lawyers and justice experts have stated from the beginning. Research shows that community-based programs help hold youth accountable, while addressing individual needs and involving families, mentors, and trusted adults in the process, and leads to decreased recidivism. Incarceration as the default ignores what we know about young people’s capacity to change, their brain development and maturation process, and the inherent biases in the system toward certain youth. Our state and local systems have an obligation to help kids learn and grow from their experiences by addressing the root causes of trauma and hardship and providing them with the care they need to overcome challenges and thrive.