Wasted Lives – Our Children Die in Adult Jails

By BitcoDavid

In the 1990s, a wave of fear tore through the fabric of American culture. We were terrified by the idea of non-prosecutable children committing murder and other violent crimes. We were constantly being told that gangs – most of which were Latin in origin – were recruiting minors, and the Media was rife with stories of random killings and armed robberies committed by children.

A fearful and punitive nation had to react, and react we did.

Georgia Alliance for Children
Richard Brown’s suicide note. Georgia Alliance for Children

By the turn of the century, the idea of children being tried and convicted as adults was no longer news. Teens and tweens – sentenced to LWOP and even death, didn’t horrify us as much as the idea of an arbitrary phantom youth wielding a Tec-9.

On October 19th, 2007, Ashley Smith – while allegedly being monitored on video – tore some strips of cloth from her bed sheets, wrapped them around her neck, and slid off the bed into oblivion. She had spent the past year at an adult facility in Canada – most of that time in solitary. Guards who swear they were watching her, didn’t find the body for 4 hours. She was 19.

In Georgia, Richard Brown had just turned 15 when he decided to break into a Little League concession stand. Georgia sent him to a youth facility, but it was over a hundred miles away. His family couldn’t afford to come visit him. Left by authorities to his own devices, Brown was bullied and antagonized by the other teenaged inmates. He was deprived of food and sexually assaulted. Six days before Christmas, he scrawled out a hand written note, and hanged himself from the ceiling fire suppressor.

Ashley Smith spent almost a year in Segregation before hanging herself at 19. Photo: The Star - Canada.
Ashley Smith spent almost a year in Segregation before hanging herself at 19. Photo: The Star – Canada.

According to the DOJ, 110 youths, aged 15 to 17 killed themselves while in custody in the 4 years between 1995 and 1999. A staggering 70% of them were being held for non-violent offenses. However, all the young people in that report were detained at youth facilities.

The NYT reports,  that teenagers are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in an adult jail than those in juvenile facilities. The idea of holding minors in adult jails until the youth authorities can decide what to do with them is proving to be an abysmal failure, as well. Forty-eight percent of youth suicides in adult facilities take place in the first week of incarceration.

I debated whether to use this picture. I finally decided to go with it. My apology to any who find it offensive. Photo: CharonBoat.com. You might find the comments interesting.
I debated whether to use this picture. I finally decided to go with it. My apology to any who find it offensive. Photo: CharonBoat.com. You might find the comments interesting.

Psychologists tell us the the Human brain doesn’t complete its development until the mid to late 20s. Children aren’t just small adults. They react much differently to stimuli than do their adult counterparts. One such stimulus is solitary confinement. This inhumane and draconian punishment destroys adults – imagine what it must be like to be 16, and locked away from all Human contact.

Furthermore, Children are often held for much different reasons than are adults. Incorrigibility, truancy and a plethora of psychological and behavioral issues – none of which are actually crimes – can be behind why a minor may find herself in custody. You’re a 15 year-old girl who feels like a misfit at school, and acts out. Next thing you know, you’re in solitary confinement in a Supermax! Or possibly worse – you’re thrown into a population with abusers and hardened criminals.

BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.

 

21 thoughts on “Wasted Lives – Our Children Die in Adult Jails

  1. Hi! Thank you for this post. We are working to keep youth out of adult jails in Maryland based on many of the arguments that you are discussing here. Feel free to check out our blog – we feature art and writings by youth charged as adults about why it is important to keep youth out of the adult system: justkidsmaryland.wordpress.com.
    Thanks!!
    Shannon, for Just Kids

    Like

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