This summer, LCCR began organizing a new book club at the Juvenile Justice Intervention Center—New Orleans’ juvenile jail. Each Wednesday, members of our staff meet with 8-10 incarcerated youth to discuss reading – and it has been a huge success! The children choose what books the club reads and then lead the discussions.
In our first club meeting back in July, we read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, a young adult novel about police brutality. The children had incredible insights about this work. They talked about why they believe there should be a focus on hiring more police officers familiar with the communities they are participating in – because in some instances, officers are fearful of the people they’re endeavoring to protect. The kids discussed how this might be a factor in police brutality.
We began this book club in response to restrictions being discussed at JJIC about the way books and other printed media were to be distributed. We wanted to ensure that children there would still be able to access and discuss literature found in graphic novels, urban youth fiction, and more. This led to the creation of a library of donated books that JJIC’s youth can access and share.
Graphic novels and urban youth fiction are popular with our kids because they speak to their shared lived experiences. The kids see themselves in the protagonists. This encourages reading, composition, and the expression of ideas that is immensely productive to the rehabilitative process.
Ensuring access to these books was especially important given the state’s repeated failures to provide adequate educational services for incarcerated kids—as detailed in LCCR’s Learning Interrupted report from last year. In one recent example, it was revealed that children being held in Angola state prison were only being provided with 113 instructional minutes per week, contrary to the state standard of 360 minutes per day.
Children, especially those with special education needs, have been denied educational services so often that LCCR had to secure a settlement agreement with the Special School District to push the state into meeting the educational rights of incarcerated children.
While the children’s unit at Angola was recently shuttered, the problems throughout the state’s juvenile incarceration system persists. The failure to promote educational attainment is detrimental to rehabilitation and, with children falling behind on their learning, leads to increases in dropout rates. This, in turn, leads to an increased risk for reoffending upon release.
Through this book club, we are fostering a love of learning, and of reading. Incarceration may restrict a young person’s body, but books allow their mind to be free. We cannot abide by a denial of that right!
Want to help? We need generous donors to step up and purchase the books our kids request to read. We need 10 copies per selection for each session. Check out our Amazon Wish List here, where we’ll be adding each new book club title.