How we imprison and abuse our own children | in#Justice on Blog#42

I’ve written about BlackLivesMatter and police killings in general, as well as the cases of Kalief Browder and Carlos Montero, most recently. Now, the Huffington Post’s Ryan Grimm reports in “American Horror Story: Children Are Being Housed In Adult Prisons Across The Country. It Has To Stop:”

Reading Dana Liebelson’s investigation into the treatment of children in America’s adult prisons, one entirely irrational thought occurs over and over: Somebody needs to send in a SEAL team that can land on the prison roof, shimmy inside and rescue these kids before any more harm is done to them.

Of course, the kids aren’t being held by a hostile foreign government or a rogue terrorist group, but, in this particular case, by the state of Michigan. The sense of urgency, however, is real, driven by the kinds of stories Liebelson uncovers: a boy who says he was repeatedly sexually assaulted by grown men he’s forced to bunk with; a girl manhandled in a cell extraction captured on video; a lack of any focus on educational or rehabilitative services; the casual use of solitary confinement; kids attempting suicide in the most horrific ways. And for what?

The overincarceration of people in American society has reached pathological levels, but for the same treatment to be meted out to children demands immediate intervention. Liberals, conservatives and libertarians are all coming together to call for comprehensive criminal justice reform, and the movement’s progress is impressive and hopeful. But there is a long way to go, and these kids can’t wait.

Grimm’s piece should be read in its entirety. Here is a visual and auditory sample of what routinely happens to incarcerated children at the hands of prison wardens:

Remember what happened when Eric Garner said “I can’t breathe?” The abuse Kalief Browder suffered at the hands of his jailers drove him to suicide after his release. The system killed him.

Just a few weeks ago, a video surfaced of an attempted grab by an NYPD plainclothes officer of a 14 year old Black girl on the street. Thanks to the courageous efforts of a neighborhood mom, that child averted predatory arrest:

How many other children has this officer tried to capture in this way? How many times was he successful? What has become of those kids?

Remember, Kalief Browder was scooped up from the streets over a vague complaint of backpack theft. How many children walk the streets of New York City with a backpack?

Two children are captured and placed in the penal system at a young age. These unscrupulous officers know their captives come from impoverished families and don’t care one whit that the consequence for their actions is that those kids will likely be held for a long time before they’re rescued from a system that is completely out of control. There aren’t enough public defenders. There aren’t jails that are appropriate for these children.

Then, in a report by Rolling Stone, “Five Links Between Higher Education and The Prison Industry,” we learn:


Children are being judged and punished the same as adults, when they are not adults, with adult knowledge and the capacity to make adult judgments. We have created a class of throwaway humans. These children get out of jail as young adults, and like their adult counterparts, they have no hope for a decent future. They receive little to no education while in jail, in spite of the fact the government is still responsible for their education and, when they leave, after paying whatever debt to society, they go on paying forever by virtue of their condemnation to a life without the possibility of redemption. Once you’ve been incarcerated, you are a marked man or woman.

Once you’ve made a mistake, there is no possibility to make good, no matter how young you were when you made it. As we’ve seen in some of the stories that have come out, many of the crimes these kids were tried for and jailed should never have resulted in prison sentences. We should be jailing few children, even those who commit serious crimes.

One case I haven’t forgotten was shown on 60 Minutes a few years ago. The child’s crime was horrific. He shot his father to death. But, just as horrific as that child’s crime, was the way he was raised by his dad. Oh, the child was ten years old at the time:

In, “Judge Finds California Boy Responsible in the Killing of His Neo-Nazi Father,” The New York Times reported:

“RIVERSIDE, Calif. — The young son of a neo-Nazi knew right from wrong when he shot and killed his father, and he is therefore responsible for second-degree murder, a judge ruled on Monday.

Joseph Hall was 10 years old when he shot his sleeping father in the head in 2011. Now 12, he could be held in state custody until age 23.

Because Joseph was so young at the time of the murder, the case hinged on whether he understood that shooting his father, Jeffrey Hall, 32, was wrong.

The judge, Jean P. Leonard of Riverside County Superior Court, said that after the shooting, Joseph put the gun under his bed; he did not cry when the police arrived, even as other family members were sobbing; and testimony indicated that he might have told his younger sister days before that he planned to shoot their father.

“These actions show the court that he knew his actions were wrong and did not want to get caught,” Judge Leonard said in court Monday.” […]

Is knowing right from wrong the only consideration here? We were talking about a ten year old! What about the way he was raised? How about the brainwashing he must have suffered at the hands of his father? Should a ten year old who was abused be held responsible for his actions? What will he be like when he is released from jail? Would he and we, as a society, have been better served had Joseph Hall be sent somewhere other than jail? Even that child deserves another chance at life, as terrible as his crime was. We should worry about his transition from jail in just a few more years.

Some kids commit terrible crimes. Does anyone bother looking at the circumstances? The time they spend in jail, if they even go there, should serve both as punishment and an opportunity to undergo rehabilitation.  They should be charged and sentenced as children. Many states have changed their laws to circumvent juvenile justice and charge kids as adults.

I suspect, for many kids who are in trouble, a more appropriate environment would be a form of  therapeutic boarding school, rather than incarceration. When justice system takes possession of these kids, it should be bound to, just as a pair of good parents would, finish the job of raising them while educating them and providing mental health services.  The aim should be to reform and treat them with the expectation that they will be allowed to have full and productive lives as members of society.

Our system of justice as a whole is rotten to the core. Juvenile justice exists in name only. Not only are we obliged to fix this, as a society, but we must insist that our justice system be rebuilt from scratch, with ethics safeguards built-in, every step of the way. As it stands, all too many commercial and non-commercial interests are vested in the incarceration of juveniles and adults, creating a vicious cycle by which the system constantly needs to be fed more prisoners.

These prisoners are humans. They’re someone’s son or daughter.

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