Statement of Jessica Womack, member of Families & Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children
Good morning, my name is Jessica Womack, and I am a member of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children.
In my freshman year of high school, I joined a group of teenagers from around the city, called the Fyre Youth Squad, who met to talk about resolving the problems in the New Orleans public school system. The stories I heard from the other youth and the site visits I went on were upsetting.
One girl attended a school around the corner from her house. Despite her proximity to the school, she had to leave her house at 6:30 in order to get to class for eight o’clock. She had to leave early because, every morning, every student has to line up in front of a metal detector to check their possession of weapons.
I experienced this myself when I visited John McDonough 35 High School. As I walked in, I was asked to surrender my purse to a scary looking security guard while I walked through a metal detector. Even though I knew the metal detectors and security guards existed, it was impossible to understand just how intrusive the entire process felt. Not only was a man raking through my belongings as if they had no worth, but I felt like the security guard was treating me like a criminal.
At the private school from which I recently graduated, we definitely didn't have metal detectors and security guards. And instead of having a policy where children are handcuffed when they act out, my school used a policy of conflict resolution as well as on site counselors to resolve the problem and make the children feel at home and safe, not like being in a prison.
The other group I am a member of, FFLIC, has been involved with educational advocacy since discovering that inadequate resources in schools evolves into a path that unfortunately leads to prison. This path is called the School to Prison pipeline, and it is described as the systematic funneling of poor youth of color into the juvenile justice system because of the overuse of suspensions and expulsions.
Now is the time for families, legislators, and communities to come together to redirect the pipeline away from handcuffs, shackles, and prisons to a more promising path of higher education and successful careers that will benefit our entire city.