MONROE, La. (KTVE/KARD) — Members of the community gathered at Emily P. Robinson Community Center on Thursday, December 9, to discuss what they are calling serious problems at Swanson Correctional Center for Youth.

More than a dozen people showed up to show their support for community reform to change the way the youth housed at Swanson are treated.

According to those in attendance the major problem is the recent infusion of $26 million from the State of Louisiana to build a new facility instead of what they are calling “front end solutions” to prevent youth from ending up at Swanson in the first place.

The meeting Thursday was lead by a New Orleans-based grassroots activism group known as Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, or FFLIC (Pronounced Flick). This organization’s goal is to help community members advocate for themselves to see improvement in the justice system.

Lameka Smith, the mother of one student at Swanson says she wants to see a better life for her son, “not jails, we need community centers, places for children to go.”

Smith went on to say, “…People are bullying him and the guards are abusing him. And I’m trying to have this meeting for someone to come do something about the problem…”

During the meeting many people asked about the existing programs are available for current students and how can they best be used to help rehabilitate the students to keep them from returning to the jail system.

A former employee at Swanson, in attendance at the meeting, says one of the major problems is getting the students to participate in the programs that are available because the older students are influencing the younger ones. Another issue the former employee mentioned was bullying. They said in the dorms there are at times that a 17-year-old is sharing a room with a 12-year-old and this just breeds further issues because the younger ones are scared and pressured by the other ones to act inappropriately.

Another member of the community posed the question, “How do we put things in place? We need to be at the table when we are making these decisions.”

Representatives from FFLIC say their goal is to improve Swanson, even if improvement means closing the doors. The group and the community plan to meet again at the Emily P. Robinson Community Center at the beginning of January. We plan to be at that meeting as well.

For more information about FFLIC, click here.