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La. advocacy group ramps up fight to reduce incarceration rates

29th April 2013   ·   0 Comments

By April Siese
Contributing Writer

Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC) is taking the next step in their fight against the school-to-prison pipeline system. Speaking in front of over 150 juvenile justice advocates from around the country, FFLIC Executive Director Gina Womack unveiled their latest campaign in conjunction with the Advancement Project’s second annual Action Camp.

Entitled 50/2017: Building a Movement to Stop the School-to-Prison Pipeline, the campaign details an ambitious plan to further the organization’s fight against what they believe is an unfair, unjust, and discriminatory system.

“Children should be treated better in their community with community-based alternatives. It’s evidence-based practice and this is where we’ve been trying to move to,” Womack tells The Louisiana Weekly. “We’ve long since known what we now call the school- to-prison pipeline because our parents told stories about how children were entering into the system through schools.”

According to FFLIC’s 50/2017 pledge, which was handed out at the event, the school-to-prison pipeline is a “systematic and institutional approach to depriving poor people of color a right to an equitable and quality education by pushing kids out of school through unjust suspension and expulsions, highstakes testing, the lack of educational resources on a consistent basis, denial of special education services, lowered expectations, zero tolerance policies, and mentally preparing kids for prison by creating prison-?like environments in the schools with the overuse of police and security guards policing students.”

The numbers 50 and 2017 both signify FFLIC’s goals in the coming years, including increasing membership by 50 percent by 2017, developing 50 new leaders through their parent trainings, as well as decreasing the number of youth incarcerated for nonviolent offenses by 50 percent. FFLIC places considerable importance on the decrease of willful disobedience-related suspensions, which they aim to reduce by 50 percent by 2017.

Though yet to be formally defined due to SB67’s veto in 2011, willful disobedience acts as a blanket term for such minor offenses as uniform violations and truancy. Many public schools in Louisiana and beyond enforce zero tolerance policies, which significantly raises the rates of suspensions and expulsions. Dignity in Schools’ Campaign in a Model Code on Education and Dignity states that “each year over three million students across the country are suspended and over 100,000 are expelled.”

The membership-based organization is looking to accomplish that goal of suspension reductions by working with five problem schools in New Orleans as well as other areas with FFLIC branches, all of which have high suspension rates. FFLIC will be training their parents on positive behavior supports as well as continuing their advocacy of teacher professional development, as detailed in Act 136.

Speakers at Saturday’s event, which took place at the Lindy Boggs Center at the University of New Orleans, included FFLIC parent Connie Walton, who relayed her experience of a failing system that she says only alienated her son, driving him deeper into rebellion and its harsh legal consequences. “As I continue to learn about the roles school policies play in mass incarceration of our youth, I begin to question the efficiency of out-of-school suspension programs,” Walton says.

“By kicking students out of our classrooms we are sending a message that we need to give up on them, that they are troublemakers and that they simply don’t fit into the school system. That is what my son felt and he eventually got kicked out. And when he got kicked out his life became a life of crime. And it continually escalated until he got a life sentence.”

A special video presentation from MSNBC correspondent Melissa Harris Perry offered words of encouragement and solidarity. “FFLIC is here to remind us that our job is to protect kids, not to protect ourselves from kids,” Perry’s video address concluded.

This article originally published in the April 29, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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