Young people in Kansas deserve better in wake of Cedric Lofton’s death

With nearly a year passed since Cedric Lofton's death, officials need to step forward and take bold steps in invest in Kansas' young people. (Getty Images)

With nearly a year passed since Cedric Lofton’s death, officials need to step forward and take bold steps in invest in Kansas’ young people. (Getty Images)

Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Tyler Williams and Yusef Presley are youth leaders with Progeny.

While September marks one year since Cedric Lofton was tragically killed at the Sedgwick County Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center in Wichita, Cedric’s family and community are far from receiving the justice they deserve.

When the Sedgwick County Community Task Force reviewing Cedric’s death issued its recommendations earlier this year, its members gave the city and county 90 days to review them before making budgeting decisions. Officials will meet Monday, and we can’t let this date go by as yet another example of our leaders failing to take action.

As formerly incarcerated youths ourselves, we are watching, and we are waiting.

We don’t need more empty words and condolences — we need real change to deliver justice for Cedric and ensure that nobody else’s life is senselessly taken. We need our leaders to step up and make long-overdue changes to divest from youth prisons and invest in community-based supports. If they don’t, the abuse of young people and devastation of our communities will only get worse.

When Cedric’s foster father dialed 911 last September, it was a call for support for his son, who was in a state of crisis. Yet, instead of being met with compassion and support, Cedric never returned home. We too have experienced the horrors of youth incarceration in Kansas, and we know that Cedric’s slaying was the result of a systemic issue, not just one terrible incident.

Cedric was a foster child, and we know from firsthand experience that children like him within the foster care system are not treated equally, and often do not have their basic needs met. Cedric’s life was taken that day with excessive force by the very system meant to protect him, and it could have happened to any one of us.

Cedric’s death demonstrated a failure on all levels of a system that supposedly exists to support us. The more time passes, the more disturbing details we learn about the circumstances.

Earlier this year, it was revealed that Wichita police changed answers on a form that would have allowed them to take Cedric to a hospital instead of the detention center. An inspection of the Sedgwick County Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center found that the facility was ill-equipped to handle youth mental health crises — in 2016. Several lawsuits have also been filed on the federal, county, and state levels to investigate his death, but have accomplished nothing so far.

At every turn, officials failed Cedric, and they continue to fail young people across Kansas today — especially Black youths, who are more than four times as likely to be detained or committed in youth facilities as their white peers.

We know that youth prisons don’t work and cost taxpayers an exorbitant amount of money, while community-based alternatives such as mental health supports and educational programming are far more effective and cost less. Our communities thrive when young people have access to the basics: housing, transportation, food, and skill-building opportunities. Not when they are put behind bars. If Cedric were given the mental health care he needed instead of being taken to a detention center, his family would still be able to hug him today. 

We need city and county officials to implement all of the task force’s recommendations — but they can’t just stop there.

It could not be clearer that youth incarceration in Kansas only harms young people. We need to close the Sedgwick County Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center and the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex and instead fund community-based alternatives that actually support youth. Incremental changes are not the solution to an inherently abusive system, and we know a world without youth incarceration is possible.

Cedric should still be alive, and we cannot allow his death to be in vain. City and county officials, it is now on you to get him justice and create a better future for our youths.

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Tyler Williams
Tyler Williams

Tyler Williams, Progeny community organizer, is a formerly adjudicated youth in the state of Kansas who understands first-hand how and why the juvenile justice system needs to be changed — to not only help youth grow but also to assist healing the community as a whole. Tyler received a governor’s appointment to the Kansas Advisory Group for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency and consistently utilizes his platform to elevate the voices of impacted youth.

Yusef Presley
Yusef Presley

Yusef Presley, Soros Justice Fellow at Progeny, entered the juvenile justice system in 2012 and became a youth leader at Progeny to ensure other young people do not experience the hardships and lack of governance he endured. Yusef recently was granted the distinguished Open Society Foundation-Soros Justice Fellowship grant, to create the YP Project and produce a documentary about the experiences of young people touched by the foster care-to-prison pipeline in Kansas.