New Orleans: Trash to Triumph | CJNY Justice Spotlight
By Shadi Rahimi and Yoram Savion / Photographs by Steve Liss and Joseph Rodriguez / Archival footage from CNN, ABC26, 2-Cent Entertainment, Russia Today
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Treated Like Trash: Before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Parish detained 100-200 youth on average daily, most of them waiting to go before a judge for low-level offenses. As Katrina approached in August 2005, authorities at the two local detention centers transported youth to the adult Orleans Parish Prison.
There, youth endured flooding and exposure to toxins in their cells; a harrowing evacuation; and, upon arrival at a local bridge – further deprivation of food, water and medical care, heat exposure, violence and psychological stress. And, despite FEMA declaring the Youth Study Center in New Orleans more than 50 percent uninhabitable, youth were eventually moved back into the detention facility.
Our member groups Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL), Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Youth (FFLIC) and others joined to push against the system, while also participating in reform tables with system stakeholders led by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the W. Haywood Burns Institute (BI). In 2008, JJPL filed a class action lawsuit against New Orleans and the school board.
Triumph: New Orleans now boasts the only stand-alone and nonprofit juvenile public defender’s office in the country, Juvenile Regional Services, which was established out of the work of attorneys during the aftermath of Katrina. Young detainees the the Youth Study Center are provided day and night schooling, and the population of detained youth that has dropped to around 25.
But such progress may be at risk with the building of a new facility. FEMA is limited by statute to only replace facilities. In the case of the Youth Study Center, that means an 82-bed facility. Director Hong said he has proposed a “work-around” plan, meaning only 40 secure beds — with the remaining 42 reserved for runaways, transitional housing and mental health beds.
Concern remains regarding a new 82-bed facility that would also house youth who should not be in custody of the juvenile justice system (runaways, mental health, homeless). Groups are also fighting against youth being sent to adult prisons; the criminalization of marginalized populations, namely Black youths (99 percent of those detained) and LGBTQ youth; and punitive school disciplinary policies.
These issues are echoed in juvenile justice systems nationwide.
Stay tuned, this is a promo to a much larger video we plan to do!