By Carimah Townes
As a member of the “Jena 6,” Theo Shaw was imprisoned for seven months without adequate legal counsel. Now, Shaw is emerging as a vocal opponent to a proposal to inject another $3.5 million into the juvenile detention system.
In testimony before the Louisiana House Appropriations Committee Tuesday, Shaw argued that an Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) proposal to provide millions more in funding as they open a new 72-bed facility, the Acadiana Center for Youth, could provide incentives for OJJ to expand bed capacity in other facilities. Acadiana was built, in part, to give detainees easier access to their family members, so many juveniles housed around Louisiana are planning to transfer to the new facility.The Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights (LCCR) and Shaw hope that other facilities will remove beds — not add more.
Shaw gained national attention in 2007, as one of six black Jena High School students who faced murder charges for beating a white classmate. The incident occurred after white students hung nooses on a tree, the day after a black student sat beneath it. White students typically sat under the tree, and hung the nooses in response to the black student’s decision to break the status quo. Racial tension escalated in subsequent months, culminating in the fight that sparked national outrage. Shaw, who was 17 years old at the time, maintained that he wasn’t involved in the assault, and spent seven months behind bars because his family didn’t have enough money to pay his bail.