When the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL) first opened our doors in 1997, our state was acknowledged to have one of the country’s worst systems to treat and prevent delinquency. In July of that year, the New York Times called Louisiana home to the “most troubled” juvenile public defender’s office in the country.1 That same month — after earlier reports in 1995 and 1996 by Human Rights Watch and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) — the DOJ detailed brutal and inhumane conditions in Louisiana’s juvenile prisons, bringing international shame to the system. Louisiana’s juvenile justice system provided virtually no representation for children accused of crimes and then placed them in hyper-violent prisons where they regularly suffered bodily and emotional harm. The large majority of these children were African-American.
JJPL’s mission is to transform the juvenile justice system into one that builds on the strengths of young people, families and communities to ensure children are given the greatest opportunities to grow and thrive. We have three key program objectives to achieve this mission: to reduce the number of children in secure care and abolish unconstitutional conditions of confinement by improving or, when necessary, shutting down institutions that continue to inhumanely treat children; to expand evidence-based alternatives to incarceration and detention for youth; and to build the power of those most impacted by the juvenile justice system.
JJPL litigates on behalf of youth both locally and statewide. Additionally, we educate policy makers on the need for reform, coordinate with parents, youth and other concerned citizens to ensure their visibility and participation in the process, and actively implement media strategies to hold the state accountable for the treatment of its youth. By coordinating our diverse abilities in strategic campaigns to engage policy makers and organize community members and youth, JJPL continues to work on improving the lives of Louisiana’s most vulnerable children.
THE CASE: The Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL) and Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC) recently filed a class action lawsuit; R.B., A.C., J.R., and T.B. vs. Dr. Mary Livers; in United States District Court for the Eastern District Of Louisiana on June 13, 2012 against the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) on behalf of incarcerated children who have been denied access to counsel to redress constitutional violations while in OJJ custody. Hundreds of youth per year are placed in OJJ’s custody and the conditions inside OJJ’s facilities are deplorable. OJJ has failed to provide youth in their custody with their constitutionally required access to courts by failing to provide adequate access to legal counsels. During the last 18 months, the conditions inside OJJ facilities, Bridge City Center for Youth, Swanson Center for Youth, and Jetson Center for Youth, have been violent and inhumane. Parish Sheriff Officers are called to these facilities at an alarming rate because of the violence that occurs inside of these facilities. Youth inside these facilities are routinely victims of violence but have no access to legal advocates to assist them in addressing these brutal conditions. The goals of this litigation are to provide incarcerated youth in Louisiana with constitutionally mandated access to counsel and the courts and, ultimately, improve the conditions of confinement for all youth in OJJ custody. Funds received from the Foundation’s grant would be used in conjunction with this lawsuit.
Contact: Charlotte D'Ooge, Development & Communications Director, Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL), 1600 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., New Orleans, LA 70113