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In response to news that Louisiana officials will end its private contract with Ware Youth Center Gina Womack, Co-founder and Executive Director of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children issued the following statement:

“We are deeply concerned for the girls being transferred from Ware and disturbed by the ways in which the Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) perpetuates a vicious cycle of harm on our most vulnerable youth and families. Ware is yet another example of OJJ’s continued mismanagement of funds, disregard for safety, and lack of transparency. 

While the closure of Ware is long overdue, following a New York Times investigative report that revealed the cesspool of abuse and harm at the facility, including rampant sexual violence and suicides, we also know that Ware is not an anomaly. Instead of taking responsibility for the systemic problems across all youth prisons, OJJ shuffles youth in and out of different facilities– renovating old facilities and building new ones– all the while trying to hide the ugly face of abuse and violence they continue to perpetuate. Though this time we are dealing with girls, a common thread in all of these horrific scenarios– from St. Martinville, to Angola, to Ware– is that OJJ responds by scapegoating their responsibility, and then transferring children to other facilities to endure the same harsh and inhumane treatment. The pattern goes on and on– moving kids from one disastrous situation to another each time OJJ’s abuse and neglect comes to light, exposing the horror stories of youth enduring trauma and harm in a particular facility. Then they blame the youth for falling behind socially and academically or acting out. 

Our policymakers must be held accountable, instead of being allowed to cite an endless list of excuses- budgets, staffing, the building itself-  that push more funding into their broken system.  For the past two decades, our leaders have failed our children by not implementing the model of holistic care and support that was passed into law as Act 1225 of 2003. We need investigations and federal assessments, such as those offered by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, of the system’s mismanagement of funds–funds which should be resourcing a system of prevention and rehabilitation. We see clearly the ways in which the state continues to waste money on renovations at multiple facilities instead of investing in the real solution: education, mental health services, and rehabilitation for youth.”