In response to news about a transition in leadership at the Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ), Gina Womack, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC), issued the following statement:
“We are clear on what we want to see from any person who leads our youth justice system, and that’s a commitment to methods proven to work to make our communities safer: rehabilitation; community-based programs; protection and care of our youth; and services and support. This transition in OJJ is an opportunity for our state leaders, including the Governor and legislators, to truly commit to shifting the youth justice system away from a punitive approach and towards a holistic model of care.
We know that punitive approaches continue to exacerbate OJJ’s problems, leading to more children returning into the system and less safety for our communities. Over the past years, OJJ has been sinking further and further into crisis and wasting more money while policymakers have ignored their long list of failures: a violent and abusive environment rife with human rights violations, mismanagement of funds, lack of transparency and accountability, and the inability to recruit and retain staff. The abhorrent conditions inside Louisiana’s youth prisons are no secret, following multiple national investigations that uncovered a widespread history of sexual assault, mental torture, and unlawful use of solitary confinement. What’s worse, our state leaders have continued to pour money into OJJ despite the harm to youth, families, and communities, and the waste in funding. A deeper investment in youth is the only thing that will work– the state has tried every tough on crime approach, clearly to no avail.
We need leadership that will put an end to the failures and abuse perpetrated by the current youth justice system, and instead will invest in transforming our system into a therapeutic model of care. What’s good for our kids is good for our communities: front end solutions that address the roots of criminal involvement. We hope that the new gubernatorial administration and new OJJ leadership will truly demonstrate a commitment to the wellbeing of our youth and the safety of our communities by relying on the evidence-based solutions that have been clearly stated and outlined by youth justice experts in the Missouri Model and in Louisiana’s Justice Reform Act 1225 of 2003.”