Sheriff Mike Neustrom’s guest column, “Including 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system makes us safer,” in support of Senate Bill 324 presents a well-reasoned argument for keeping 17-year-olds out of adult jails. But there’s still one perspective missing from this debate: parents.

As Neustrom points out, parents know their 17-year-old children are just that —children. Putting teens in an adult prison brings development to a halt and makes it more likely they will re-offend than if they had been placed in the juvenile justice system. Keeping children in adult jails also puts them at great risk for sexual assault and suicide, a parent’s worst nightmare.

We continue to hear from parents that many children are actually funneled into the criminal justice system through suspension or “zero-tolerance” policies at high schools — perpetuating the school-to-prison pipeline. Rather than funneling children, particularly low-income youth of color, into the justice system, these parents are calling on Louisiana’s schools to eliminate these policies and stop treating teens as adults. By keeping kids in school rather than in adult prisons, we keep the faith in our kids and the hope of rehabilitation alive. Louisiana’s kids deserve better. Let’s pass House Bill 372 and eliminate the subjectivity of “willful disobedience,” which will help keep children in school, as well as Senate Bill 324 and stop putting youth in adult prisons.

Gina Womack

executive director, Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children

New Orleans