Tuesday, June 17, 2014
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.
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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