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Friday 19 December  
Grace Bauer and her son, Corey.
Belinda Lopez's picture
Hilversum, Netherlands
Hilversum, Netherlands

A mother takes on the juvenile prison system

Published on : 17 February 2012 - 5:28pm | By Belinda Lopez (Photo: RNW)
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When Grace Bauer’s son was just thirteen years old, he was sent to a juvenile prison in Louisiana, and became one of the 2.2 million children who get arrested and incarcerated each year in the United States. What happened to her son has turned Grace’s life upside down.

Listen to an interview with Grace on The State We’re In

Download as MP3 (right-click and 'save as')

It was in 1998 when Grace started sleeping on the floor in her son’s room to keep him from leaving the house at night. Corey was thirteen, and had turned into the archetypal troubled teenager. He had come home at night, intoxicated and bloodied, refusing even to talk about it the next day.

Before and after moment
Not long before, Corey had been getting 'A's and 'B's at school, Grace said. But the death of Corey’s grandmother, Marianne, changed all that. Marianne’s death is what Grace calls “the before and after moment” in the life of her family. Within months, Corey was banned entirely from the Louisiana public school system. Finally, when he stole a $300 stereo from a truck with two other boys, he was adjudicated delinquent, and sent to juvenile detention.

Grace didn’t know it yet, but she had no legal relationship with her son anymore. As an attorney would later tell her: “Essentially you’ve lost your rights as a mother. And there’s nothing you can do. I can’t help you, I can’t take your money.  The State of Louisiana now has full custody of your son, and there’s nothing you can do to fight this.”

Bruised and battered
When Grace visited her son Corey in Tallulah Correctional Facility, a brutal juvenile prison, she realized he was in trouble: “He was bruised and battered”.  Corey had the imprint of a guard’s ring bruised into his temple, and the imprint of another guard’s boot on his ribcage, Grace said.

Corey’s mistreatment was more the rule than the exception: “Nearly 200 kids a month were being sent out of this facility for violent injuries that had occurred to their bodies”, Grace said. “I’m talking broken eye sockets, broken arms, broken jaws, burst ear drums; the violence was unbelievable.”

Specific goal
Grace wrote a panicked stream of letters to staff within Louisiana's Department of Corrections, all to no avail. She turned to the hundreds of families already campaigning on the issue of juvenile detention. Attending her first rally, Grace found that those campaigning were “probably 90 percent moms and dads and families of color, and a handful of white families” – a reflection of the disproportionate number of young people of color locked up in juvenile prisons.

Grace teamed up with these families to work towards one very specific goal: to shut Tallulah down. And they succeeded. Tallulah was closed in 2004.

It was the beginning of a wave of closures of juvenile correctional facilities in the United States. Over 50 facilities have closed in the past four years, according to a report released in October 2011.

Horrifying conditions
No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration, published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, reveals the horrifying conditions of such facilities. It cites research from 2010 showing that one in eight confined youths reported being sexually abused by staff or other incarcerated young people, while 42 percent feared physical attack.

Grace Bauer is now a full-time activist dedicated to juvenile justice reform. She is the co-director of Justice for Families. Click the link to find out more information about the organization and how you can help.

”I’m always cautious about declaring victory because in this country there are 2.1 million arrests of juveniles every year. On any given night 100,000 kids could be in a facility very similar to what Corey endured,” Grace said.

Taken from the latest edition of The State We're In - It's Not Me, It's You!


Anonymous 21 February 2012 - 10:43pm / Us

There is so little media attention paid to the penal system in this country. I've always been horrified by it. This story was just excellent. I loved the Cry Freedom soundtrack in the background too. Appropriate in so many different ways.
Thanks so much for your show. Keep the stories coming.

user avatar
Belinda Lopez 22 February 2012 - 1:04pm

Thanks Anon for your comments. And good ears! Well-spotted on the Cry Freedom soundtrack.

Grace Bauer 20 February 2012 - 11:53pm / United States

I write to thank you for your encouraging words! I am late seeing the story come out. Unfortunately, the prison industrial complex has taken the life of another young person in our family. My daughter and I have been in transit back to Louisiana to be with our family as we mourn the unexpected death of my nephew, Charlie. He was found dead in a city jail on Thursday morning. This happens all too frequently in places with no accountability! I am horrified that another young person,s life has been stolen behind bars.

This work can be dreadfully difficult and many have asked me why I keep doing it but I will not rest while the system tries to keep silent the millions behind bars in the US. Their voices must be brought into the light and change must come! If you would like to help, please donate on the Justice for Families website and email me at We need all the help we can get! Thank you all for your care and concern for ALL of us! Peace and Freedom, Grace Bauer

user avatar
Belinda Lopez 22 February 2012 - 12:59pm / The Netherlands

Grace, so sorry to hear this. I've posted your message on our facebook page too. Speak soon.

bele moreno 20 February 2012 - 4:00pm / españa

muy bien Belinda, un abrazo

user avatar
Belinda Lopez 22 February 2012 - 2:24pm

Gracias Bele!

Stove Pipe 20 February 2012 - 7:50am / Canada

Places like this prison can only exist where they can hide in darkness. Grace shed a powerful white light on the prison horrors using her voice, combined with the the voices of her colleagues. This takes courage and persistence. This is the ONLY way the common man or woman can take on any of our institutional bullies. I sincerely hope she finds the peace of mind she so richly deserves.

user avatar
Belinda Lopez 20 February 2012 - 11:37am / The Netherlands

Dear Stove Pipe, Anon, Wendy, Leti, Ms Anna, thank you for your comments.

I expect Grace will visit this page this week and have the chance to thank you personally.

Anonymous 20 February 2012 - 5:15am / United States

I will keep your son and the other incarcerated young men in my prayers. Your story broke my heart. Your efforts were inspirational while what was happening in the prison was incredibly sad. I hope someday all of these wrongs are made right and this never happens to anyone again.

Wendy 20 February 2012 - 12:13am / USA

Thank you for your vital program and to today's speakers. Their wisdom and positive energy is so inspiring and life affirming. I, too, cried at Corey's plight and Grace's continued purserverence working to protect our endangered children from abusive and exploitative prison systems. Please continue to help open people's eyes to so much injustice in our society."

Leti 19 February 2012 - 9:18pm / United states of america

What a painful story to listen. I, as a mom Could feel the pain and frustration in Grace's voice. It brought tears to my eyes and made me realize that we (all citizens) should be involved in protecting children in the Juvenile detention centers. It also means that we have to keep on top of Judges who are elected or appointed to make decisions on children lifes. I want to help and find out where I can become better informed.

user avatar
Belinda Lopez 20 February 2012 - 11:39am / The Netherlands.

Dear Leti,

Grace now works for an organisation called Justice for Families. You can find out more information about the juvenile justice system there and even get in touch with Grace directly to find out how you can help.

Belinda (TSWI Producer)

Ms.Anna 18 February 2012 - 11:31pm / USA

Thank you for this story. It has brought me to tears.

I wish stories like this (about the real world and about REAL people) were so much more prevalent here in the US with less stuff about celebrities and pointless, non-relative information.

Thank you for sharing this story with us - and thank you, Grace Bauer, for sharing you and your sons story with the world. With love from Maryland.

Anonymous 18 February 2012 - 10:57pm / US

What an incredible story. I just forwarded to my 17 year old son to not only expose him to the stark realities of life for far too many youths but to get him interested in taking on the issue of juvenile prison system.

user avatar
Belinda Lopez 20 February 2012 - 11:34am / The Netherlands.

Thanks Anon for your reply.

Where are you writing from? Would be great to hear what prompted you to send this story to your son. If you'd like to email me directly I'm at

All the best, Belinda (TSWI Producer)

Jane Simpson 18 February 2012 - 10:45pm / Czech Republic

Great show. Had me in tears.
We need more real stories like this in US media. Sad to see we're largely ignoring it.
Thanks again, dear Dutchies.

user avatar
Belinda Lopez 20 February 2012 - 11:32am / The Netherlands.

Thanks for listening, dear Jane!

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