As the United States begins grappling with the ugly truth of juvenile offenders who have been serving time in adult prisons, there are some stories that are blatant in-your-face examples of what realities are ahead.
Ian Manuel was sentenced to Life Without The Possibility of Parole for a crime committed at the age of 13. At 14 he entered an adult prison facility and within a year he was in solitary confinement where he has been living for the last two decades.
He has been held in solitary confinement since he was 14 years old! What were we thinking! Twenty years in solitary confinement for a kid!?! Read the story here
Warning: This blog post deals with a very sensitive and violent topic.
One of the worst secrets of the American Prison Industrial Complex in the sexual exploitation of female inmates. In recent months there have been very large settlements awarded to female inmates who have brought civil lawsuits against states and state department of corrections.
In Michigan a team of lawyers brought a class action lawsuit against the state and Michigan's Department of Corrections. After 12 years, fierce resistance from the state and several attempts by the state to side-step the accusations, the team won a landmark 30 million dollar settlement and the jury assigned to that case apologized on behalf of the citizens of Michigan for the hostile sexual environment that existed for female prisoners.
In Colorado, Denver Women's Correction Facility reported the highest rate of women prisoners (10.7% of the prison population) who claim to have been sexually assaulted or endured sexual misconduct. In 2011 a class action lawsuit was brought against DWCF for sexual assault but the case later fell apart as the CDOC began to tear apart the allegations (more on this in a moment). In 2008 an inmate brought a lawsuit in federal court alleging sexual assault by a guard where she was awarded 1.3 million dollars. The guard was fired, and he received a 60 day sentence. Because the 2011 class action was brought against the department at the time of the 1.3 million dollar award, the department did it's best to discredit the women involved in the latest class action. Unfortunately the department was wrong. Many of those women at DWCF had been housed at Colorado Women's Correctional Facility where they had been raped. When the facility closed, the women were all transferred to DWCF and the guard(s) were sent elsewhere. According to the women, one day he showed up at DWCF and it started all over again.
This is a quote from the article which is linked to the photo posted above: "UPDATED January 23rd, 2014…Alabama Prison Was House of Horrors for Female Inmates, Feds Say. A Justice Department investigation accuses Alabama officials of violating women’s rights by fostering an environment of rampant sexual abuse at the state’s Tutwiler Prison, where inmates “universally fear for their safety” and officers allegedly forced women to engage in sex acts just to obtain basic sanitary supplies.The nearly 900 women incarcerated at the maximum-security prison live “in a toxic environment with repeated and open sexual behavior,” the Justice Department said in announcing its findings today into the Wetumpka, Ala., facility."
In every facility where the issue of sexual assault is finally brought to the light of day the question is always asked, "Why didn't you report this before." The answer is simple. Those who report sexual assault and abuse in prisons are deprived of visiting privileges, have their personal property taken from them, have their phone calls taken and/or are placed in solitary confinement indefinitely. In most cases where rape and assault have been reported there is an internal investigation. IF it is necessary a guard will be transferred to another facility but rarely is a guard charged with rape.
We are confronted with the issue of the protection of women and girls everywhere in the world today. Whether it is the issue of sex-trafficking, women's rights in third word countries or archaic betrothal practices that lead to the deaths of young girls. As American's we are righteously angry at the abhorrent treatment of women around the world but we turn a blind eye to the egregious treatment of women and girls in our own country. Remember that juvenile facilities and prisons for women are staffed by men. Remember that men are given charge over women in very private settings such as showering and even going to the bathroom. Remember that they have complete control of their movements and move them about in handcuffs. Remember that although they have broken the law, they are still mothers, daughters and sisters. They are supposed to be in prison to correct their behavior not to be degraded, humiliated and violated. It is time for us to demand prison accountability, transparency and reform. They will come home one day and we want them to be better members of our communities not broken women.
Yesterday we posted an article concerning the need for movement towards changing criminal justice policies for juveniles. There were many who commented on the NYT article that supported the need for changes in charging and sentencing juveniles that would be more age appropriate and would focus on rehabilitation, reform and the future release of these errant juveniles.
Many would say that the reform of juvenile criminal justice practices would be against the wishes of victims advocates and that the families of victims should be the greatest concern. First, we must remember that the reason for court systems and judges is to insure that every accused person is treated fairly and remove vengeance from the hand of the wronged party. This is for two reasons. The first is to protect the person who has been wronged from committing a crime themselves out of pain and anger. The second is to insure that the best interest of the community is served, the errant individual is caused to repay for the harm done.
In my years as a juvenile justice advocate I have come in contact with very angry victims advocates, however, they are the minority. Most would prefer to be able to grieve their loss and learn how to move on with their lives, putting the pieces back together. It is generally not the victim that desires to be drawn back into court for every appeal, sentence modification or parole hearing, it is the district attorney's that use the suffering of victims to sway the opinions of the courts. I have wittnessed it time and again.
Only in recent years, as victims have felt compelled and protected have they begun to speak about the road to forgiveness. It is a road. All of us who have lost a significant relationship, gone through the death of a family member, lost a job, a child or a home know that grief is a process, a process that begins with anger and disbelief. The stories of the women and families who have forgiven others for taking the life of a child or a son or daughter are amazing people. There are many stories that have ended in unlikely frienships. To get a glimpse of this please read Unlikely Advocates For Teen Killers.
It has been over 3 years since the Supreme Court of the United States has decided that sentences of life without the possibility of parole, for crimes other than murder, are cruel and unusual punishment. It has been almost two years since the same ruling was applied to those juveniles who had been convicted of murder. Since that time few states have reformed their sentencing policies or addressed those who have been sentenced under those unconstitutional sentencing policies.
It seems that these landmark decisions have only laid the groundwork for arguments on the state level concerning retroactivity, what constitutes a cruel sentence, what is a reasonable sentence for juvenile offenders and how/what juvenile justice practices need to change.
A recent New York Times article lays out all the discussion very well and covers the arguments from every angle. (you can read here) Juveniles Facing Lifelong Terms. The discussion between legislators, DA's and defence attorney's continues with the same rhetoric that was prominent before the rulings. District attorney's vow that they stand for justice and that the juvenile offenders serving these long and cruel sentences are deserving and will never be anything more than a criminal. Legislators are fearful of making any change because of the fate of their political careers. Defence attorney's continue to push cases through the appellate court system setting legal precedence for change and then find that the battle continues. It seems, however, that the American public has begun to change their views, at least as you read through the first dozen or so comments.
However, we can argue all day long, the facts remain and cannot be denied. Juvenile offenders are not accountable for their actions in the same way that adults are held responsible. Why? The facts speak for themselves. We, as a society, do not hold them capable of making decisions that affect their lives and their futures. We know that they have psychological differences and can be rehabilitated. We know, by virtue of our highest court and by virtue of our own wisdom, that life sentences and de-facto life sentences are cruel. We know that the last 30 years of juvenile justice policies and practices have been an open wound on the arm of our national human rights. WE KNOW EXACTLY WHAT THE SUPREME COURT MEANT AND THAT THESE RULINGS APPLY RETROACTIVELY.
So why is it taking so long for states to make changes? Politics. It is not the concern for human rights, it is not acting justly, it is not for the betterment of our communities or our country....it is politics.
The only way that these changes will come is if we, the people of this nation, stand up and say that we want to be known for something other than cruelty, vengeance and over-zealous punishment. We need to take a look at the facts, the truth, we have the largest prison population per capita of any other developed nation and we treat our juveniles with the harshest of consequences. That is called brutality.....not justice.
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