The Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL) was created in 1997, when Louisiana was acknowledged to have one of the country’s worst systems to treat and prevent delinquency.
In July of that year, the New York Times called Louisiana home to the “most troubled” juvenile public defender’s office in the country. The United States Department of Justice detailed brutal and inhumane conditions in Louisiana’s juvenile prisons, bringing international shame to the system. Louisiana’s juvenile justice system provided virtually no representation for children accused of crimes and then placed them in hyper-violent prisons where they regularly suffered bodily and emotional harm. The large majority of these children were African-American.
For the last 17 years, JJPL has been the leader in transforming Louisiana’s juvenile justice system. Our impact litigation and law reform advocacy have driven the private, for-profit juvenile prisons out of Louisiana and shut down two of the worst juvenile prisons in the country; and, JJPL’s efforts inspired the passage of the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2003 – legislation that increased alternatives to incarceration in children’s communities, triggering a 75% decline in Louisiana’s juvenile prison population.
See the blue box for a list of our more recent accomplishments and impact on the juvenile justice system.
In 2014, we merged with the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights to increase our advocacy capacity and ensure our efforts are directly informed by the experiences of the more than 1,000 children who enter the juvenile justice system in New Orleans each year.
- Forcing a complete rebuilding and fundamental top-to-bottom change of New Orleans’ juvenile jail;
- Developing detention standards that apply to every facility in the state of Louisiana;
- Ensuring the implementation of the US Supreme Court decisions Graham v. Florida and Miller v. Alabama to end mandatory life without parole for juveniles in Louisiana;
- Revising the Recovery School District’s discipline policy to reduce suspensions and expulsions, increase school-based interventions and improve due process for children and their parents in disciplinary proceedings.
- Developing a model volunteer law student project, Stand Up For Each Other! (SUFEO), that provides direct educational representation to students facing disciplinary proceedings in Orleans Parish;
- Helping to ban the use of fixed restraints on children in schools.
Before joining LCCR as special counsel, Elizabeth worked as a staff attorney at the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center, where she represented clients facing capital charges throughout the state of Louisiana. Prior to that, Elizabeth worked as a staff attorney at the Orleans Public Defenders, representing clients in criminal cases at the trial level in Orleans Parish. Elizabeth received her B.A. from Wellesley College and her J.D. from the University of Virginia.
Rachel Gassert is the Policy Director for the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights. Prior to joining LCCR, Rachel was a Program Associate with the Juvenile Justice Strategy Group at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. At Casey, Rachel was responsible for the design, implementation and eventually the management of the Foundation’s efforts to help local jurisdictions participating in the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) expand their reform efforts from a primary focus on detention to the goal of safely reducing post-dispositional out-of-home placements.
Previously at Casey, Rachel played a key role in multi-year consulting engagements with state and local jurisdictions requesting assistance from the Foundation in reducing their reliance on juvenile incarceration. Through coordination with juvenile justice system leaders in areas as diverse as Alabama and New York City, Rachel conducted analyses, presented recommendations to key stakeholders, and coordinated inter-agency workgroups to improve dispositional decision-making, refine probation practices and expand community-based alternatives with the goal of safely reducing reliance on juvenile incarceration.
Rachel received a Master’s of Arts in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College at Columbia University and completed her undergraduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Carol Kolinchak is currently Special Counsel at the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights. At the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL), Carol served as Legal Director and represented the youngest member of the Jena 6, acted as lead counsel in a class action lawsuit filed against the City of New Orleans and the Orleans Parish School Board challenging unconstitutional conditions of confinement at the local detention facility, and represented a 6 year old child who was handcuffed on multiple occasions at school. Since 2010, Carol, in partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative, has been coordinating Louisiana’s implementation of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Graham v. Florida. More recently, she has been coordinating implementation of the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama. In 2011, Carol received the Lucy McGough Juvenile Justice Award from the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Prior to joining JJPL, Carol was the Deputy Director of the Capital Post Conviction Project of Louisiana (CPCPL). For almost a decade, before joining CPCPL, Carol represented indigent defendants at the trial level in both state and federal court, primarily in capital cases, including a number of juveniles facing either the death penalty or life without parole.
In addition, Carol has been involved in a number of cases involving the protection and preservation of the culture in New Orleans. Carol represented the New Orleans Social Aid and Pleasure Club Task Force as a cooperating attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana in a lawsuit against the City of New Orleans over excessive parade permit fees in post-Katrina New Orleans.
Carol is past president of the Louisiana Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. In addition, she serves on the Board of Directors for Resurrection After Exoneration. Carol is a 1993 graduate of Northeastern University Law School in Boston and has been a member of the Louisiana Bar since 1993.