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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Ohio Juvenile Court finds two boys delinquent in Steubenville sexual assault

March 19, 2013

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

On Sunday a juvenile court judge in Steubenville, OH found two former members of the high school football team delinquent for sexually assaulting (i.e., digitally penetrating) a drunk, naked and unconscious 16-year-old girl at a drinking party. The judge sentenced one boy to two years confinement and the other boy to one year confinement. Both sentences will be served in juvenile institutions and both defendants will have to register as sex offenders upon release.

This is the case in which the hacker group Anonymous obtained and publicized social media, including photos, videos and text messages regarding the assault after local officials declined to prosecute anyone. In one photo the boys were carrying the naked and unconscious victim by her ankles and wrists. Videos showed them laughing and bragging about the incident. Literally overnight, little known Steubenville caught the nation’s attention. The local prosecutor and judge disqualified themselves from further involvement in the case. A state prosecutor and a judge from another county were appointed to replace them.

Steubenville is an economically depressed steel town of approximately 19,000 people located about 40 miles west of Pittsburgh. Known as the “Big Red,” the high school football team led by its legendary coach for the past 35 years has developed an unrivaled winning tradition that has been a major source of community identity and pride. This case, including the offense and the way it was minimized and covered up by authorities, has shattered that identity exposing a small community’s insecurity and reluctance to hold its heroes accountable for their misconduct and a disturbing willingness to blame the victim for the assault.

On a much smaller scale, this case reminds me of the willful blindness of Joe Paterno and various officials at Penn State University regarding Jerry Sandusky’s predatory sexual molestation of awestruck teenage boys. Both cases remind me of the peculiar human need to create and idolize heroes instead of working on becoming heroes. I am also struck by the immense sense of pride and expectation of special privileges and treatment exhibited by many members of successful athletic teams.

Someone needs to teach these people that their unique genetic gifts and special skills are not a license to disrespect and take advantage of others who are less fortunate.

The people who make up the community of Steubenville need to engage in some serious self-reflection regarding their contribution to this offense in order to prevent something like this from happening in the future. Those two boys likely were encouraged to think of themselves as heroes who were better than the other kids and therefore entitled to special treatment. They could not handle becoming objects of worship and forgot who they were.

The two defendants are fortunate to have been prosecuted in juvenile court where conviction of any crime results in a finding of delinquency. That is, their records will reflect that they were found delinquent, rather than guilty of rape. They also will benefit by serving much less time than would have been the case in adult court. Another significant advantage is that they will be serving their time in a juvenile institution rather than an adult prison where they would be more easily victimized.

An adjudication of delinquency means that the Juvenile Court will retain jurisdiction and probationary supervision over the conduct of these two boys until their respective 18th birthdays, unless the court acts to extend its jurisdiction to age 21. This is a substantially more favorable outcome for them than would have been the case, if they had been prosecuted and convicted in adult court.

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