Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children
As painful as it is to picture a child arrested for habitual truancy, it is devastating to consider how a pre-teen might fare in an adult-like correctional institution.
Until a decade ago, more than 2,000 children in Louisiana endured nightmarish conditions when they were imprisoned for mostly non-violent offenses, including acting out in class and petty theft. They experienced physical brutality, emotional abuse, and confinement far from home. Most were between 14 and 21 years old, although Louisiana law allows incarceration for children as young as 10.
In a typical case, a young boy, grieving the death of his caregiver grandmother, stole a car radio. Although it was his first offense, he was remanded to a juvenile facility.
A group of frustrated people, mostly African-Americans, formed a support network for families whose children were entering the justice system. They were stigmatized as “bad parents” and ostracized by their churches and their peers, but the knew they were dealing with broken, troubled kids who needed services, not punishment.
The support group became Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC), which is now a statewide multi-generational membership organization with an impressive track record.
FFLIC joined other organizations in a successful lawsuit challenging conditions of confinement. Their persistence won sweeping reforms to the state juvenile justice laws and an agreement to close a notoriously brutal secure youth facility.
Organizers teach transformative leadership development to parents and use direct action organizing and peer advocacy to strengthen families and communities. They acknowledge that families know what they and their children need.
FFLIC and other local and national allies researched juvenile justice models in other states and advocated for a system that focuses on small, regional facilities that are more home-like and offer rehabilitation. It includes parents as part of the child’s treatment and keeps them close enough so they can visit without crossing the state.
With focus and tenacity, FFLIC promotes objective school disciplinary policies, establishes parenting groups, teaches positive behavioral support, promotes teacher training in conflict resolution, and holds schools accountable to provide a quality education to every student.
Today, there are fewer than 400 youth incarcerated in Louisiana. With CCHD’s help, FFLIC promotes early intervention to keep children out of the justice system, supports rigorous public defense and advocates shorter sentences.
The Catholic Campaign for Human Development has helped fund the leadership development efforts of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children. FFLIC aims to keep families at the center of their children’s treatment as they navigate the juvenile justice and education systems.