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FFLIC Celebrates Policy Win in Louisiana

March 30, 2021
Emma Paine

Photo of New Orleans in the background with a headline: Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children Celebrates Passing of House Bill 100

In October 2020, NJJN member, 
Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC), celebrated a huge win for Louisiana juvenile justice reform. FFLIC created and advocated for House Bill 100 which outlined directives for the Juvenile Justice Reform Act Implementation Commission (JJRAIC). Evident of their effective strategy, the bill was presented and signed by Governor John Bel Edwards just nine days later.   

When the JJRAIC was established almost 20 years ago, it was hoped that the commission would address the root causes of incarceration and support holistic care for children while denouncing the punitive approaches that were being used to incarcerate youth. Unfortunately, the JJRAIC was less effective than was hoped, and even stopped meeting for four years beginning in 2016. During the period when the commission did not assemble, there were incident reports that were overlooked, including two suicides at a youth facility.   

Even still, FFLIC remained confident that the JJRAIC had the ability to make a positive impact on the juvenile justice system in Louisiana. During an extraordinary legislative session that focused on the public health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, FFLIC saw an opportunity to both call on the JJRAIC to consider the well-being of youth in juvenile justice facilities during the current public health emergency and push for the JJRAIC to be re-established with clearer operation guidelines.   

“Now more than ever, it is important to consider how isolated kids are, especially considering the state has limited impacted visitation and programming due to Covid. The physical, mental, and emotional stress of this isolation poses severe risks to youth wellbeing,” said Cheyenne Blackburn, FFLIC’s Campaign Director. Cheyenne also noted, “You can’t social distance in youth prisons. You just can’t.” These factors fueled the urgency of this legislation. Yet, the harms of incarceration are well documented even without a worldwide pandemic. Moving forward, the JJRAIC should weigh the health concerns when detaining or committing youth.  

In addition to requiring the commission to consider the factors associated with the pandemic, the bill requires the commission meet quarterly (formerly, the commission had no meeting requirements, which was unusual for commissions in Louisiana), provide annual reports, and create new positions on the commission as needed. Importantly, FFLIC was added to the commission as a permanent Vice-Chair. This was an especially momentous win with regard to shifting power as there was previously no commission representative of impacted families. Gina Womack, the Executive Director of FFLIC, is currently serving in the Vice-Chair role. Louisiana State Representative Royce Duplessis, the chair of the JJRAIC, described Gina’s role as the “quarterback” - she keeps the commission on track and motivated while continually pointing the members to a family-focused perspective.   

Notably, FFLIC has aimed to create seats at the policy table for youth. During the first meeting of the re-established JJRAIC, a FFLIC youth leader spoke about her family’s experience with the juvenile justice system. Cheyenne Blackburn stated that helping youth get involved in this work helps them see that, “They are able to do this (advocacy work). They can make a change for people like them.” FFLIC also promotes the idea of youth being, “experts of their own experience.” This community-minded nature shines through in FFLIC’s communications with their supporters in statements like, “Where FFLIC has a seat, you have a seat” and, “FFLIC is in the power seat and so are you!”  

During the 2021 legislative session, FFLIC is continuing to focus on their three-point platform, Let Kids be Kids. The Let Kids Be Kids Campaign demands for better treatment of Louisiana’s children in regard to mental health care, education, and poverty. Cheyenne’s charge for others is, “to start thinking outside of the systems that we are living in and start creating our own. Start putting ourselves at the table because that’s where we need to be and where we deserve to be.”  

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To learn more about Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children and how you can join their mission, visit their website and follow them on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter 

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