Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How Many New Orleans Mayoral Candidates Does it Take to Find Out That the Youth Study Center is a Prison?

For the past several years, the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana has been waging a campaign to close the Youth Study Center, a notorious youth prison located in Gentilly. The campaign has received extensive coverage in the Times-Picayune, and is one of the important issues facing our next mayor. Yet, at today's Mayoral debate, only one candidate had apparently even heard of the Center.

According to a transcript of the debate from the James Perry Mayoral Campaign:

Gina Warner, CEO of the Afterschool Partnership: “What is your position on the Youth Studies Center?”

Troy Henry: I am in favor of the Youth Studies Center. I am in favor of using the youth studies center in collaboration with all the revised library systems that are also being built. So we want to be smart and prudent about how we use our current resources today so where it makes sense to consolidate let’s do that but where it makes sense to keep them separate and individual, let’s do that. But we need to make sure we have the Youth Studies Center.

(Nervous laughter)

John Georges: I’m for them as well. We have to be about our facilities. Libraries are certainly one group. It’s all about budgeting and available dollars and the idea is to do like the board of regents … it’s also a budgetary issue.

(Nervous laughter)

Leslie Jacobs: I think it’s critically important for kids, our students to have a place to go outside of school. Schools have a $1.6 billion rebuilding plan, we need to look how to locate each of these youth studies centers inside our of our school buildings. I think they are important but given the budgetary crisis the more we can co locate with a library, school and other civic centers the easier it will be to staff them and the easier it will be to maintain them.”

(Nervous laughter)

Edwin Murray: I, too, am in support of youth study centers. I think it would be great if we could somehow figure out a way to put them in schools and figure out how to just keep the schools open a little longer and also use library systems across the city. It’s important also to try to work in in recreational activities some kind of way to make sure that after school Youth Study Centers to be involved as well to encourage kids in extracurricular activities

(Nervous laughter)

James Perry: I want to be clear because I think some folks misunderstood this issue. The Youth Studies Center is a jail. It is a prison. The subject of some very difficult litigation. Children have been imprisoned for long periods of time with no access to quality education at all. We need children to have access to education despite incarceration. If you are locked up for 23 hours of a 24 hour day there is no chance we can decrease the recidivism rate. It’s about how we define success. When it comes to juveniles in this system, making sure they have a real educational opportunity so that the prison they are in does not define the outcomes of the rest of their lives.

(Raucous Applause)

Photo by Abdul Aziz.

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