On July 19, 2022, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards announced his decision to transfer incarcerated young people to the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola – an adult prison with a long history of human rights abuses. The decision was emblematic of a state that consistently sees young Black people as criminals to be captured and controlled rather than healed and rehabilitated.
In this report, Only Young Once: The Urgent Need for Reform of Louisiana’s Youth Justice System, we explore how the perceptions of Black youth contribute to an overreliance on punitive measures – in both Louisiana’s school and juvenile justice systems – leading to stark racial disparities. The report also details the significant physical and psychological harm posed to incarcerated youth, while Louisiana taxpayers pay the cost for a fiscally wasteful approach to youth crime.
Only Young Once also spells out opportunities for reforms that would be not only more productive for the well-being of children but more cost-effective for taxpayers.
“The default for any child in the juvenile system should be humanization, not criminalization,” says Delvin Davis, SPLC senior policy analyst and the report’s primary author. “Incarcerating kids in Angola not only chooses the latter but forces Black children into the most extreme version of criminalization Louisiana has to offer. We hope this report will fuel a dialogue around reform that is necessary to change children’s lives.”
The SPLC encourages all readers to use Only Young Once as a resource to catalyze change for youth in Louisiana.
Read the report here. Click on image to view PDF.
Illustration at top by David Cooper