The New York Times recently released an investigative report on the systemic failures and ignored abuse running rampant within Ware Youth Center – which has led to a surge in suicide attempts amongst incarcerated children. Governor Edwards has since announced he will request an investigation from the State Inspector General.
The violence and abuse at Ware are emblematic of a larger youth justice crisis that has become increasingly urgent in recent months. Yet, the state has continued to scapegoat kids and shirk responsibility for a decades-long unfulfilled promise to transform the youth justice system into a holistic model of care and support.
In response to this shocking report, youth justice advocates, which have been demanding an end to the private contract with Ware as part of a #NoMorePrisons campaign, issued the following responses:
Kristen Rome, Co-Executive Director, Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights:
The New York Times report on systemic sexual and physical abuse against children in the Ware Youth Center shows what we know to be true—prisons and jails are no place for children. We are devastated for the young people who have been forced to endure torture at the hands of those charged with their care. We stand with every young person that has ever entered Ware Youth Center and we send our deepest love to their families. It is unacceptable that so many adults—especially those elected to protect the public—did not think these teenagers were worthy of protection. Each and every one of these adults must be held accountable.
We agree with the Governor’s call for an immediate investigation of the Ware facility. However, the Governor, the Office of Juvenile Justice, and the Department of Child and Family Services must do more, and act with urgency. Ware must be closed immediately to ensure that no children are further harmed. The girls under the care and custody of the Office of Juvenile Justice, currently housed at Ware must be moved immediately and OJJ must provide them with supportive services to address any abuses.
It is time for the State to acknowledge its failures to care for children in its custody. The atrocities detailed in the Times article are why we continue to demand that state agencies increase transparency and accountability. We call on the Office of Juvenile Justice to reveal to the public what they knew when they knew, and what they did in response. In this moment when the public trust has been broken, it is essential for the State to be honest and transparent. The children of Louisiana, even those arrested and prosecuted for crimes, deserve our support and protection. We have failed them for now, but can hope to redeem ourselves if we take immediate and decisive action.
Gina Womack, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC):
“There is no other way to put it: we are utterly devastated by the detailed accounts of the systemic abuse and enforced trauma occurring within Ware Youth Center, and we are heartbroken for the families who have lost their children to this cruelty. The New York Times report goes beyond our most horrific nightmares about the state’s treatment of youth under its care – and the lack of ownership for these failures makes it all the more sickening. Just when we think it can’t get any worse than transferring youth to Angola, Louisiana’s youth justice system continues to one-up itself as the worst, most dangerous, and inhumane entity that exists within the state.
Make no mistake, what is happening at Ware is not a singular instance. Ware is the poster child of Louisiana’s youth prisons, and young people will continue to lose their lives in these facilities if we don’t start enacting significant changes to our youth justice system. How many more children have to die before Governor Edwards and the Office of Juvenile Justice realize that investing in the same, broken system will not result in a different outcome? Accountability for these atrocities goes all the way to the top, and the Governor and OJJ must take responsibility for what has occurred under their watch. Now is the time to implement meaningful reforms that foster rehabilitation over punishment if we want to stand a chance at ensuring a better future for our youth.”