Criminal Justice Reform
“This system–and I tell people all the time–it’s not broke. This system is designed to do just what it’s doing. The thing is, our job has become to highlight what that crisis is, shift the frame and offer a solution."
Voice of the Experienced (VOTE) is a grassroots organization founded and run by formerly incarcerated people (FIP), our families, and our allies. We are dedicated to restoring the full human and civil rights of those most impacted by the criminal (in)justice system. Together we have the experiences, expertise, and power to improve public safety in Louisiana and beyond without relying on mass incarceration.VOTE is a founding and anchor partner holding work on issues facing formerly incarcerated people and the policies that keep them disenfranchised.
A Louisiana advocacy and policy organization that fight for youth and their families affected by the criminal justice system. FFLIC holds work around black men and boys and the school to prison pipeline statewide.
The Baton Rouge Fair Chance Coalition is a group of local advocacy organizations that have assembled to advocate for those who are formerly incarcerated and/ or have criminal records that are seeking employment without discrimination based on their prior convictions. Our partners are The Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, Moms Demand Action- Baton Rouge Chapter, Step Up Louisiana, Justice and Accountability Center, The Promise of Justice Initiative, Louisiana Progress, VOTE – Voice of the Experienced, Louisiana Progres, Vulnerable Communities and People Initiative, P.R.E.A.C.H., and Liuna Local 99 Union.
Juvenile Justice News Update
Federal judge rules Louisiana must move minors out of Angola. From the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights: This morning, Judge Shelly Dick ordered the removal of all youth from Angola’s West Feliciana Center For Youth by next Friday, September 15th. We’re elated that she stood not only on the right side of history but most importantly, with youth from our state, who have endured inhumane conditions like extreme temperatures in their cells during the hottest Louisiana summer on record, the use of mace, solitary confinement and a lack of educational provisions.
We’re thankful to learn that this is the end of this facility’s use and that these kids can begin to heal from the trauma that they’ve been continuously exposed to during their time within the juvenile legal system as we remain steadfast in our dedication to hold the Office ofJuvenile Justice (OJJ) accountable for the substandard care and deplorable abuse that these children have suffered and that continues to be administered throughout all of their facilities.
Ashley Hamilton, LCCR’s Policy Manager, observed several days of the hearing and reminds us of the ongoing struggle to treat kids like kids. “It is imperative to note, this is not a win for us; these children are not going home. Moving them to another OJJ facility simply lessens the blow. Children being locked in cages and treated inhumanely does not rehabilitate them, itdoes not make our communities safer and it does not strengthen our families. We will not be able to move the needle on youth justice until our children are seen as humans and are allowed to thrive in their homes and communities. Don’t get too comfortable, we’ve got work to do” says Hamilton.
Southern University Law Center is getting a federal grant of $250,000 to help support juvenile justice reform in the state. Senator Royce Duplessis leads a commission to implement Act 1225 that is now 20 years old. Today Senator Duplessis said “Act 1225 was passed 20 years ago. This sweeping legislation was supposed to reform our juvenile justice system by using best practices focused on therapy and intervention. That did not happen. Today we were happy to announce a federal grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) that will assist greatly in implementing this law. I’m grateful that Southern University Law Center has stepped up to assist in this crucial effort. A therapeutic/ intervention model for juveniles does not hinder public safety. It’s the pathway to public safety.”
Kids Don’t Belong in Angola!
The Governor’s decision to house youth at Angola State Prison is cruel and outrageous. Angola is an adult facility built on former slave quarters that is historically known for horrific violence, abuse, and sexual assaults caused by institutional and systemic violence. To house children at this facility demonstrates the Governor’s lack of understanding of developmentally-appropriate rehabilitation and commitment to dismantling systems of racism and oppression in Louisiana.
Our leaders have not done nearly enough to ensure children, especially Black and brown children, entrusted in their care are safe, healthy, and getting the rehabilitative services they need. Instead, the state continues to ignore the needs of young people and their communities and perpetuate a cycle of harm.
We urge you to join our fight for children’s rights by signing these petitions demanding that Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards:
We Won!! Metro Council Approves Fair Chance in Hiring Ordinance
BATON ROUGE, LA—The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council voted 7-5 to approve an ordinance Wednesday that will require employers receiving money from the Parish to engage in “fair chance” hiring practices. The policy builds on a 2016 ordinance aimed at providing opportunities to apply for Parish jobs to formerly incarcerated persons or people with former convictions and expands it to cover public contractors as well. Under the ordinance, these employers will be required to first consider applicants on their merits—removing the “prior conviction box” from application forms and only conducting a background check if a conditional offer is presented.
“A prior conviction should not be a scarlet letter that causes employers to shut the door on qualified job applicants,” said Lynda Turner, Baton Rouge Fair Chance member, who is formerly incarcerated. “This ordinance means more Baton Rouge residents will get a fair chance to rebuild their lives and support their families. We have a long way to go to erase the stigma of criminalization and build the systems of rehabilitation our community needs, but seven councilmembers showed real leadership today by supporting Fair Chance Hiring.”
Wednesday’s ordinance was sponsored by Chauna Banks and was supported by The Baton Rouge Fair Chance Coalition, a group of community organizations devoted to opening opportunities for Baton Rouge residents excluded from the labor market by past convictions.
HB 396 Passes House Committee With No Objections
Our partner Vote’s Voting Registration Bill–which requires the reinstatement of the voter registration of a person who is no longer under an order of imprisonment–passes through committee with no objection! HB 396 is now moving to the House Floor.
Help us pass the Fair Chance in Hiring Ordinance in Baton Rouge!
The Baton Rouge Fair Chance Coalition is a group of local advocacy organizations that have assembled to advocate for those who are formerly incarcerated and/ or have criminal records that are seeking employment without discrimination based on their prior convictions.
With the passage of the Fair Chance in Hiring Act, Louisiana made a large leap towards employment justice for those with criminal records, but it is not enough. The Fair Chance in Hiring Ordinance, also known as Ban the Box ordinance, was first passed on the local level in Baton Rouge in 2016, sponsored by Barbara Frieberg and Councilwoman Chauna Banks.
We are back in 2023 to expand the local ordinance to Contract jobs- meaning any employer with a contract with the city-parish government in East Baton Rouge will be required to follow the Fair Chance in Hiring ordinance and consider hiring formerly incarcerated persons. Our ordinance will also require a procurement process that will provide an opportunity for applicants to file a complaint if their application is indeed rejected and they believe their former conviction played a part in that decision. The Fair Chance in hiring ordinance sponsored by Councilwoman Banks will be voted on April 12th at 4 pm at the Baton Rouge City Hall.
Please contact your councilperson and let them know you support the passage of the ordinance by submitting a public comment here: https://www.brla.gov/councilcomment
Read the full text of the Fair Chance in Hiring Ordinance.
Happy Freedomversary Norris Henderson
VOTE’s founder Norris Henderson spent 27 years, 10 months and 18 days imprisoned.
While incarcerated in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, Kenneth “Biggy” Johnston enlisted Norris Henderson to join him as a jailhouse lawyer. Together they started teaching law classes to others on the yard. After getting out of solitary confinement Biggy and Norris took their organizing even further.
Norris shares, “all the things they measure were ripe at Angola. I mean hopelessness was there. Nobody was going home, people with long sentences. You name it. It was evident in Angola. So at this time, we, me and some other guys, started thinking about what we can do to change not necessarily our conditions, but our circumstances.”
And they did just that, founding the Angola Special Civics Project (ASCP) in 1987. As a group, they began strategizing, organizing and fighting for freedom and structural change. They designated roles and committees to various leaders, including Checo Yancy, current Policy Director for Voters Organized to Educate.
In the 1990 Louisiana legislative session, 20/45, the Lifers Club and now ASCP’s first bill, finally passed and became Act 790. While this was a major victory for many, the work was incomplete because the final law did not apply to those doing life without the possibility of parole. With the new laws that they helped to pass now in effect, thousands of incarcerated people had the opportunity to reopen their cases. ASCP helped by filing more than 5,000 post-conviction applications in the course of a year.
Norris Henderson was freed on March 23, 2003 and he founded VOTE almost exactly a year later. “I always swore that if I got out, I would not forget the people I left behind.” And two decades later, he never did.