If you know me, you know I do not follow sports. Nor will I begin because life is too short. However, I may begin praying for the LSU Tigers to win. This, not because I care about football but because I care deeply about Louisiana’s children.

One reason child well-being in Louisiana is as poor as it is that our leaders focus on the wrong things. This week’s news offers an unbelievable example of misplaced priorities.

We all know LSU football has its devotees. This past February, while speaking about the state’s budget crisis, Louisiana State Representative Steve Pylant told a panel of higher education officials who were concerned about potential cuts that “hell would freeze over” before LSU doesn’t play football in Tiger Stadium next year.

So, while the Tigers are indeed still playing, some of Louisiana’s child welfare providers who care for foster children have gone without payment since July 1. In our own case, we are using charitable dollars to provide transitional living services to foster children in three regions of the state.

Yesterday, I learned the influence of LSU’s football team may be far greater than I ever imagined – probably greater than even the most rabid Tiger fan could imagine!

Last week the LSU Tigers experienced what the New Orleans Times Picayune called “one of the most embarrassing, disappointing and inexplicable LSU football losses in the program’s 123-year history.”

With that loss, if LSU’s own researchers are correct, no child should have been allowed to appear in juvenile court this week – especially if the juvenile judge attended LSU as an undergraduate.

This week The Atlantic wrote, “Judges Football Team Loses, Juvenile Sentences Go Up“, about a research paper titled, “Emotional Judges and Unlucky Juveniles”, which was written by two LSU economics professors, Ozkan Eren and Naci Mocan. The paper has also been covered by national media like The Washington Post and Sports Illustrated.

The Tiger Rag covered it under the title, “STUDY: WHEN LSU LOSES, JUDGES GIVE BLACK JUVENILES GET HARSHER SENTENCES” at http://www.tigerrag.com/study-lsu-loses-judges-give-black-juveniles-get-harsher-sentences/

(Yes, that Tiger Rag title is very awkward. Perhaps, after last weeks’ horrid loss, the Tiger Rag editors are emotional, too.)

“Emotional Judges and Unlucky Juveniles” claims black adolescents receive an extra 46 days of sentencing after an unexpected loss by the LSU Tigers. White juveniles receive an extra 8 days. If the judge earned a bachelor’s degree from LSU, the impact of an upset loss on disposition length is 86 days.

You can read the actual research paper here: http://www.nber.org/papers/w22611

Often, I have heard Dr. David Wheeler, our VP of Clinical Services, say “correlation is not causation”. It is possible the paper draws incorrect conclusions. If so, we will find out. I imagine “Emotional Judges and Unlucky Juveniles” is being torn apart by judges looking for statistical and logical defects.

This review is for good reason: the judges I know are honorable people. None would want their favorite team’s failure to lead them to mete out harsher sentences. A child in the juvenile justice or child welfare system has no more powerful advocate than a juvenile judge.

Whatever is determined by an analysis of the research paper, no state in the nation can afford to have sporting events influence child welfare decisions – especially Louisiana! For 26 years Louisiana has held the average rank of 49th among the states for child well-being.

All of Louisiana’s leaders must take their eyes OFF the ball and look more closely at the conditions of Louisiana’s children.

Rick Wheat
President and CEO

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