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YJLI Fellow LaTasha DeLoach Working to End Solitary

December 13, 2018

 LaTasha DeLoach

LaTasha DeLoach, LMSW

LaTasha DeLoach is a fellow in NJJN’s 2018-2019 cohort of Youth Justice Leadership Institute fellows.  She currently is the Vice Chair of the DMC Sub-Committee of the Iowa State Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee and is Director of the City of Iowa City – Division of Senior Services.  We recently sat down with her to ask her about her youth justice work.

How did you first get engaged in youth justice?

My entry into juvenile justice was through child welfare.  I live in the southeastern quadrant of the community which has a high number of impacted people of color.  The summer before deciding if I would go to graduate school for my Masters in Social Work, the neighborhood behind me had a sizable drug raid by the police on an apartment complex and removed approximately 40 kids, some of whom ended up in foster care.  This was literally in my back yard and I couldn’t get the sound of the children crying out of my head.   Black families in Iowa have a much higher rate of termination of parental rights, and I was really concerned about foster care’s impact on black kids.  So, I went back to grad school to get my masters’ degree in social work with a focus on the child welfare system and black families.  I completed an action research project on the cultural competence of social work professionals working in the child welfare system and I was inspired; now research is a large part of any program I build or committee that I work on in my community and beyond.

When I finished grad school, I eventually took a job as a coordinator of a child-focused community partnership to keep kids safe in the community with the support of business, neighbors, churches, orgs, etc.  As part of that job, I became the Disproportionate Minority Contact Coordinator – looking at minority overrepresentation in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems in the county as well as a member on the statewide DMC Subcommittee.  Eventually, I became a consultant on implicit bias and anti-racist training.

I have a tendency to be really focused and I really zeroed in on overrepresentation and disparities in juvenile justice.  I left this position this summer, but before I left I had to put some pressure on our elected Sheriff to reconsider putting children in adult jails while they are in a pre-convicted status.  With my advocacy, a young man was able to be placed into a detention center who would otherwise have been in solitary confinement for 8 months in a local jail. My project with my fellowship is focused statewide to get youth out of solitary confinement in jails and allow them to be served with other youth, especially if they have not been convicted. This is work that I am doing for all Iowa children, but my alarms bells are truly ringing after being informed about the state of Black girls being transferred to adult courts.   In my work on the Iowa Girls Justice Initiative, I found out that girls were being transferred into the adult system at a high rate.  To this day, black girls are the only kids who are seeing a significant increase in charges and transfers to the adult court, which means their lives are impacted forever.  In Iowa, once you are charged as an adult, the system will always treat you like an adult. Sometimes some of our kids’ lives end before they start. We need reform and I am on it!

Tell me about your advocacy project.

My goal is to get children out of solitary confinement in Iowa jails.  This means getting them out of adult jail and into juvenile detention and keeping them from going in the first place.  When youth are in jail, their parents cannot come to visit them if they have a felony conviction, which means that many black families are impacted -- because we have DMC issue in the criminal side of the justice system – also often the youth can’t afford the $12 required for each short phone call.   In jail, without an IEP, you get no education.  Volunteers who teach GED classes may come to offer classes in the jail but, because of sight and sound separation, youth are not able to attend and most volunteers are not aware that youth are in the jails and can be served. Youth stay in cells without pen, paper, books or human interaction.  But in juvenile detention the youth get an education, free phone calls, and visits from parents, regardless of their criminal history. 

I’ve been able to put transfer on the three-year strategic plans for both the DMC sub-committee and the Iowa Taskforce for Young Women with emphasis on race and gender. Frequently the decision of where the kids are housed, falls to the sheriff and sometimes the juvenile judge.  The judges and county attorneys leave it up to sheriff where to house the kids.  Even though the detention center will absolutely take these kids – they’ve said it’s up to the sheriff.  So, since the position of sheriff is elected, the first step is to bring this to the attention of community members.  This will give us some leverage.  I’m about to do some social media work to get the word out to the community. I will be starting a Facebook page called “Iowans for Youth Justice.” This spring, I hope to be partner with the University of Iowa Law Clinic, to see what language we can develop to help move legislation to end solitary confinement in Iowa jails for youth.  This upcoming fall I plan to host a TedX for youth in October for Youth Justice Action Month.   I have a responsibility to these youths and I take it seriously. 

What motivates you?

I am a social worker; like with the pedigree and passion, it’s my profession.  I love advocacy work and know that there are wins and losses and have been through both.  I’m passionate about advocating for the people that people forget about; this group of kids deserves to be acknowledged and cared for by their community.  These kids are sitting in these jails, but if you went to look for them on-line, they are not even acknowledged as being in the jail.  They are absolutely invisible. I have worked for a decade to help those who feel voiceless become heard and those who are ignored their due time in the sun. Some of these kids have been pushed into the adult system; they’ve been completely ignored – the numbers seem too small to pay attention to, so no one was caring.  But the long-lasting impact on these children is sometimes more criminal than the alleged crimes they are being charged with at times.  Solitary confinement has residual effects forever and an actual conviction in adult court prevents youth from ever earning their unalienable rights. How can they pursue happiness with the weight of the criminal justice system wrapped around them for life? 

What’s your dream youth justice goal?

My vision is to keep youth who make mistakes out of adult institutions because they are youth.  My issue is the adultism – youth are seen as children, until they make a mistake, then they’re automatically treated like an adult, even though they have the mind of a child.  Let’s end this treatment of our children

 

 

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