Our school policies that promote zero tolerance for any infraction have disenfranchised large groups of students, expelling them from classrooms and placing them in juvenile detention facilities. These policies will place a student in harms way for simple infractions such as refusing to follow a teacher's direction, wearing clothing that does not fall into the schools guidelines, skipping class, arguing with a teacher, having a conflict with another student and the list goes on. These students can be arrested....listen again....ARRESTED and placed into juvenile detention. These practices remove a student from the educational environment, from their families, from all things familiar and throw them into a conflict ridden, punishment driven environment that crushes them. Talk about childhood trauma!
Add to these atrocities the number of homeless youth in our nation and we should be appalled. According to national estimates there are 550,000 youth a year that are homeless for longer than a week. The average age when a youth becomes homeless is 14.7 years. Many of these youth left abusive homes, many have aged out of the foster care system and had no place to go or found themselves in a few financial hard spots on their way to independence. Many of these young people just need support and guidance as they try to navigate from youth to adulthood. We all needed that guidance! Yet, merely because of their circumstance, these kids are vulnerable to violence and conflict with law enforcement which further errodes their opportunities for a successful transition.
At the end of November, the United Nations Committee Against Torture challenged the practices of the United States concerning juvenile justice policies, solitary confinement, cruel and unusual punishment of children and prison conditions. Recent advocacy in New York has ended the practice of sending juveniles to Rikers Island after the case of the teen who had been held at Rikers for three years without a trial or conviction. Many of those kids held at Rikers were held in solitary confinement because of their age. The UN Committee Against Torture challenged the practice of solitary confinement while the United States responded that is had no sanctioned standards of practice for the use of solitary confinement. Almost all children in conflict with the law who are awaiting trial in adult court are held in solitary confinement in county jails in this country "for their own protection". Many children who have taken plea agreements or who are convicted and sentenced to adult prisons are held in solitary confinement when they arrive at prison "for their own protection". The United States is the only nation in the world who sentences it's children to life without parole. The practice of sentencing juveniles to spend the rest of their lives behind bars is in direct violation of the United Nations Convention On The Rights of The Child, an international treaty that the United States helped to draft but has refused to ratify because they want to maintain the right to throw away children.
Even the highest court of this nation seems to have no impact on the way we deal with our children. We have two powerful rulings from the highest court of the land that declare that life without parole for a child is cruel and unusual punishment and that he age, mental capacity and the ability to rehabilitate a should be considered in every individual case and that a meaningful opportunity for parole must be provided. Yet the nation, as a whole, has not moved to rectify these archaic laws and begin the process of resentencing the children (now adults) that are serving these harsh and illegal sentences. Even beyond the life without parole sentences are the THOUSANDS of children who were sentenced to the equivalent of life, serving terms of 40, 50, 60 or more years for offences that would have garnered a 15-20 year sentence for an adult.
Add to this the lack of affordable healthcare, our high infant mortality rate, the deteriorating education system, the cost of college tuitions and we have set insurmountable obstacles before our children, their survival and their success. What do we have against our kids? Why is it that we have turned away from our children, abandoning them to punishment, abuses and humiliation at our own hands? Have we forgotten that our prosperity, our heritage and our future is shaped by the way we educate, instruct and nurture our children?
It is time for the United States to humble herself, open up her heart and care about the most vulnerable of her population....her children.
"Evidently, pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps isn’t enough to overcome a system that’s stacked against you." Think Progress.org