We are killing the souls of our children

June 17, 2014

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Good afternoon:

As a result of my experiences as a public defender representing kids charged with crimes in juvenile court during the late 70s, I believe that incarcerating nonviolent juvenile offenders in juvenile prisons is unnecessary and stupid. Incarcerating them in adult prisons is all of that and barbaric. Yet, that is what we do.

A recent study by the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency confirms my belief.

Lenconnect.com reports:

Among the facts in Monday’s report:

■ Prior to entering prison, 78 percent had a friend who was killed; 48 percent had a family member that was killed.

■ 81 percent had a parent with substance abuse issues.

■ 44 percent spent time in foster care and were placed out of home an average of 11 times.

■ 45 percent had a father in prison; 25 percent had a mother in prison; 19 percent had a sibling in prison.

Piling trauma upon trauma is not an effective strategy to rehabilitate troubled youth, and incarceration almost always does more harm than good. Set aside the psychological scars, the implications for the individuals and their home communities are long-lasting.

The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Whether any particular form of punishment violates that standard will depend on how evolving societal attitudes about punishment change over time.

I believe we need to change what we are doing to our children because we are killing their souls.

Beginning during the Reagan Administration and its lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-keys mentality to today’s emphasis on ushering kids from school into privatized prisons where they are exploited as revenue-generating widgets to line the pockets of the rich investors who own the corporations that operate the prisons at taxpayer expense, our society has eliminated any realistic possibility that any of these kids will ever have a decent chance to experience a happy and productive life outside of a prison.

That is an Eighth Amendment and human rights violation.

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NBC Special Report tonight on juveniles placed in solitary confinement

March 22, 2013

Friday, March 22, 2013

NBC News is reporting this evening that:

For each of the past five years, roughly 100,000 juveniles have been held in adult jails and prisons, according to data from the Department of Justice.

Defense attorney Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Montgomery, Ala.-based Equal Justice Initiative, told NBC these youths are getting unfairly harsh treatment for the crimes they commit.

“Ninety-one percent of the children who are serving time in adult jails and prisons are serving time in jails and prisons for crimes that are not murder, crimes that are not sex crimes,” he said. “Solitary confinement is pretty horrible for anybody, but it’s especially horrible for a child. It is psychological torture.”

When juveniles are locked up with adults, they may be placed in protective custody, which means solitary confinement.

Sometimes they commit suicide because they cannot handle solitary.

Human Rights Watch and The American Civil Liberties Union published a report last October that included information collected by the New York City Department of Corrections. For example, in fiscal year 2012, 14 percent of all detained adolescents were held in solitary at least once.

Ian Kysel, the author of the report said,

I spoke to kids. They talked about being in a cell alone, the size of a parking space, the size of an elevator. This is sort of the dark secret of the criminal justice system. … Jails and prisons don’t make available their data on solitary confinement.

According to Kysel, the average length of solitary confinement for youths locked up last year at Ryker’s Island was 43 days.

Solitary confinement is torture. NBC reports,

Stuart Grassian, a Boston-based psychiatrist who is an expert on solitary confinement, cites CIA research done in the 1950s, which found solitary confinement made American prisoners of war in North Korea go psychotic.

“What was produced by that was a person who was so unhinged, he was confused, disoriented, disheveled,” he told NBC News, “They wouldn’t sometimes know who they were. They couldn’t think.”

For more information watch Ted Koppel’s full report tonight on teenagers in solitary confinement on “Rock Center With Brian Williams” Friday, March 22, at 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT.

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