What is Family Justice? Why Advocate?

Nikkia’s story

Nikkia’s father was in and out of jail and prison from the time she was a baby. Yet she definitely had a relationship with him. She still recalls how her mother read letters to her from her Dad when she was growing up.

Growing up—and even now in her 20s—Nikkia feels like she was always on the border. When she was in school, she was angry a lot. Yet she did well in her advanced placement classes. Her father died five days after her 17th birthday, when she was a junior in high school.  She still misses him.  Looking back now, Nikkia reflects,  “If someone had supported my Dad while he was incarcerated, he might have had a different life.”

Nikkia’s mother managed the kitchen at a local nonprofit. Nikkia says she grew up in the kitchen. She didn’t realize that culinary arts could be a career option for her, however, till later in high school.  Excelling in a program she loved, she saw that adults started showing how much they cared about her. She believes having an adult care about you is one of the biggest factors for succeeding in high school.

Nikkia says she “has had a lot of opportunities” since she graduated from high school in 2015. She apprenticed with Louisville’s nationally known chef Edward Lee, for example. Now she is working to establish a culinary arts program in a local high school. Nikkia sees herself as “really strong now.” Given the challenges she faced growing up, she says she “didn’t have a choice” except to be strong.

What is Family Justice?

The Criminal Justice system hurts families and children in our community, so it is important to recognize and work for family justice. Louisville Family Justice Advocates (LFJA) looks at how criminal justice policies and practices can harm parents and children in our own community. We work to advance family justice face-to-face with local stakeholders and decision makers.

Here is an important policy change LFJA is working on now:

A pilot program to create and test the use of Family Responsibility Statements by local District Court Judges when making sentencing decisions involving custodial parents.

When a parent is incarcerated it often means a sudden separation from children and caregivers. There is little opportunity to consider the impact on families. If the parent pleads not guilty to their charge, he or she may have to await trail for several days or even weeks.  Family Responsibility Statements would give defendants, families, prosecutors and public defenders a chance to assess and mitigate the impact of children in all decisionmaking.

Why advocate?

Because there are racial disparities in the impact of parental incarceration on children’s health in our community..

In September 2018, The Special Project, a member of the LFJA Coalition, worked with the Louisville Metro Center for Health Equity to research how parental incarceration harms children’s health in Jefferson County. The research finds significant racial disparities in the impact on children of color compared with the overall impact on all children in our community.  LFJA advocates for all children, especially those disproportionately affected by parental incarceration, to flourish and thrive.

Stay tuned for more information and opportunities to advance family justice!

Portrait of Nikkia by Lafayierre Mitchell

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