Remarks by OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan at the OJJDP Grantee Kickoff Meeting With the Southern University Law Center and Louisiana’s Juvenile Justice Reform Act Implementation Commission
September 6, 2023
Good morning. Thank you, Senator Duplessis for your kind introduction.
I am Liz Ryan, Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, or OJJDP—the only federal agency dedicated solely to serving youth who are involved in or at risk for becoming involved in the juvenile justice system.
For nearly 50 years, OJJDP has helped states, territories, and Tribes develop equitable juvenile justice systems, create safer communities, and empower young people.
I am very pleased to join you for this grantee kickoff meeting! I am also excited to announce that OJJDP is awarding $250,000 in funding to the Southern University Law Center to help the Louisiana Juvenile Justice Reform Act Implementation Commission—the JJRAIC—fulfill its charge: strengthening Louisiana’s juvenile justice system, protecting the state’s youth, and serving all of them equitably.
OJJDP awarded funding to the Southern University Law Center because of its demonstrated leadership in the community and the infrastructure needed to assist the JJRAIC in fulfilling its charge.
As you know, Southern University is an HBCU—an Historically Black College or University. Established in 1880, the university opened its Law Center in 1947 to provide legal education for African American students. For the past 76 years, the Law Center has demonstrated leadership and service in Baton Rouge and across Louisiana, providing student-staffed legal clinics for people in need, including youth. To date, the Law Center has more than 2,500 graduates and is one of the nation’s most racially diverse law schools.
OJJDP is proud to fund the Law Center’s work with the Commission, to pursue justice for youth in a state where—according to the Louisiana Quarterly Juvenile Justice Indicators—Black youth are disproportionally represented in every custody and supervision status.
OJJDP envisions a nation where all children are free from crime and violence, and where youth contact with the justice system is rare, fair, and beneficial.
This vision is rooted in decades of research and best practice that demonstrate the need for a juvenile justice system that supports the pro-social development of youth who come into contact with the system and thereby ensures the safety of communities. The seminal National Academies of Sciences report on the juvenile justice system, commissioned by OJJDP and released in 2013, calls for most youth to be served in their communities, outside of the formal juvenile justice system. The report calls for youth who commit more serious crimes to be served by a system of graduated sanctions, with the youth in the least restrictive setting possible, consistent with public safety.
If these themes sound familiar, it’s because – 10 years earlier – Louisiana’s very own Juvenile Justice Reform Act, Act 1225, which established the JJRAIC in 2003, called for children to be in the least restrictive placement most appropriate to their needs and consistent with the circumstances of the case, and it called for recommendations on the creation and maintenance of a continuum of community-based treatment and supervision programs for youth in the juvenile justice system.
That underlying charge of the Commission is part of what makes today’s grant announcement so exciting.
Justice-involved youth should be served in their home communities whenever possible and consistent with public safety. Secure custody in juvenile justice facilities must be rare, reserved only for when young people pose a serious risk to community safety—and it must be safe and humane. We must substantially reduce the number of young people prosecuted in adult criminal courts and held in adult jails and prisons. With OJJDP funding, the Southern University Law Center will help the Commission keep kids out of Louisiana’s adult jails and prisons.
The members of the Commission have an impressive, dedicated history of service to the people of Louisiana. This past July marked the 20thanniversary of Act 1225 and people who now sit on the Commission helped to draft this critical legislation. The Act is considered a blueprint for reforming the state’s juvenile justice system, and the Louisiana legislature approved it unanimously. Commission members continue to be staunch advocates for youth. Through their work with the Louisiana Governor’s Office, policymakers, the media, and the general public, they inspire positive change—and they persist, even in the face of setbacks.
I met with the Commission last November, when I expressed OJJDP’s steadfast support for Louisiana’s children and for the Commission’s mandate. I also shared several recommendations for reforms that we hoped the Commission would consider and encouraged them to commit to long-term oversight of these reforms. Louisiana youth and their families NEED and DESERVE that sustained commitment.
Louisiana IS making progress. And I’ll say it again: members of the Commission are absolutely devoted to achieving justice for Louisiana’s children. But in recent months, the state’s successes and the Commission’s devotion have been overshadowed by dire media reports about Louisiana’s juvenile justice system.
We know from decades of research that many children confined to adult facilities suffer lasting trauma. They are more likely to suffer sexual assault and incidents of violence than their peers in youth facilities. Further, recent research shows that incarceration in an adult correctional facility before the age of 18 is associated with a 33% increase in the risk of mortality between 18 and 39 years of age.
I know that everyone in this room is dedicated to end this trauma and violence. All youth deserve to be treated humanely.
OJJDP has awarded the state of Louisiana and Louisiana’s OJJ numerous grants in recent years.
They include a competitive grant to OJJ for $1 million in fiscal year 2021, awarded under our Juvenile Justice System Reform initiative to support the Commission’s implementation of reform efforts statewide. In 2021, OJJ also received funding under OJJDP’s Reducing Risk for Girls in the Juvenile Justice System program.
The state also has four active Title II Formula Grant awards. The Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Criminal Justice has received more than $2.6 [two-point-six] million dollars in Title II funding since 2019. The awards are helping the state address numerous youth needs. For example, children who suffer abuse and neglect can receive mental health counseling rooted in evidence-based trauma intervention.
And Title II funds support school-based programs that are collaborating with juvenile courts and district attorneys’ offices to prevent truancy. The programs take a holistic approach that’s based in restorative justice and positive youth development principles.
A few moments ago, I mentioned Act 1225—the blueprint for enhancing the state’s juvenile justice system. The Act called for rehabilitation over punishment, and it envisioned community-based services replacing the state’s over reliance on secure incarceration. To date, most of the reforms described have not been implemented—despite the level of innovation and commitment I just cited. With OJJDP funding, the Southern University Law Center is going to work with the Commission to change that.
Before I close, I want to tell you about a new funding opportunity from OJJDP, the Building Local Continuums of Care to Support Youth Success initiative. The program will support efforts to develop community-based continuums of promising and evidence-based prevention and intervention services for youth. Please consider applying!
OJJDP envisions a juvenile justice system that emphasizes community-based services and opportunities for all young people. We will continue to support Louisiana’s efforts to achieve juvenile justice system reform, to ensure opportunity and equity for every child.
It is my honor to introduce our next speaker, John Pierre, Chancellor of the Southern University Law Center. Chancellor Pierre has spent much of his life—more than 35 years!—at Southern University. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University in 1980, then received a master’s in tax accounting from Texas Tech University and a law degree from Southern Methodist University School of Law.
After spending the early years of in his legal career as a Judge Advocates General Corps Officer for the U.S. Army, he returned to Southern University in 1990 as a member of the Law Center faculty, teaching a wide range of courses, including tax law, security devices, and local government law.
In 2006, he became the Law Center’s Vice Chancellor of Institutional Accountability and the Evening Division and, in 2016, the Southern University Law Center named him Chancellor.
Chancellor Pierre leads an outstanding, global institution known for its diversity and pursuit of racial justice. He is a dedicated, progressive leader who advocates for community outreach and strategic partnerships. He proudly embraces and tirelessly continues Southern University’s legacy of service and commitment to educational access and excellence.
The Chancellor has also had a distinguished career outside academia, serving as co-counsel for the Baton Rouge Branch of the NAACP in Davis v. East Baton Rouge Parish School Board—the Baton Rouge school desegregation case—and as co-counsel in McWaters v. FEMA, a landmark class action lawsuit seeking adequate housing assistance for survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
Please join me in welcoming a true leader and advocate for justice, Chancellor John Pierre.