Until a few years ago many states in this nation had laws in place that allowed juvenile offender cases to be transferred to adult court without judicial review. In many states it was possible to transfer a juvenile case to adult court simply based on the decision of the prosecuting attorney. There was no judicial review of the case, the circumstances or the likelihood of conviction. Do not pass go, do not collect 100.00 but go directly to an adult jail and await criminal prosecution.
There have been many flaws with this system. First and foremost there was no consideration given to the age or culpability of the young offender. Secondly, most juveniles and their parents have never been involved with the criminal justice system and therefore, in the early stages of the juveniles arrest, were unprepared to give proper guidance and protection to the young offender. Thirdly, the adult criminal justice system requires that a juvenile offender be held in county jails while they await trial. These county jails are not designed to accommodate young offenders, keeping them safe from harm, continuing their education and providing them with the support systems for their health and protection.
Thanks to the hard work of organizations like the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition laws that allow for the transfer of juveniles into adult prisons have been challenged and amended. In addition the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition is working diligently to change laws to allow for legal representation of juveniles at the very beginning of an investigation to ensure that the juvenile and his/her parents are informed and aware of the criminal justice process and the youthful offender is protected.
National organizations such as the Equal Justice Initiative, Campaign For Youth Justice and others, continue to inform the public on the cost and impact of the laws that have thrown away kids in the adult prison system.
Thank you for your tireless efforts....may we see the day when we once again value the life of a kid and the opportunity we have to transform that life to something positive and productive.
Here is an excerpt from a recent editorial and the link to read the entire article:
The Washington Post Opinions
"Yet, the report notes, citing figures that are a few years old, there are some “100,000 youth who are placed in adult jails and prisons each year.” When minors are thrown into adult jails and prisons, often simply to await trial, they don’t get the structure and educational opportunities necessary for growth or rehabilitation. They are also extremely vulnerable to harm. “More than any other group of incarcerated persons,” a federal panel reported in 2009, “youth incarcerated with adults are probably at the highest risk for sexual abuse.”
As America struggles with the national budget and the national debt, lawmakers look for ways to cut expenses. As states have been hit with natural disasters, bulging budgets and anemic education and social programs, theses states look for ways to better use state funds. Looming on the horizon is another health care and budget crisis....caring for aging inmates who have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The federal government has begun reviewing and changing sentencing practices to reduce the number of people who serve long prison sentences for non-violent crimes. States have begun changing mandatory sentencing policies and reviewing their state guidelines regarding the treatment and incarceration of juvenile offenders in order to reduce the cost of incarceration in their states. Most have not taken on the hard topic of life without parole or even virtual life sentences (those sentences that are the equivalent to life).
Juvenile Justice advocates across the nation have been working tirelessly to undo the draconian policies and sentencing practices for juvenile offenders. Recent Supreme Court rulings have found LWOP sentences for juveniles to be cruel and unusual punishment yet the young men and women who have been condemned under these kinds of sentences are still serving time. In addition to the 2500 or so young people serving life without the possibility of parole there are thousands more (estimated to be over 10,000) who are serving sentences of 40, 60 or 100 plus year sentences. These sentences are also cruel and unusual. A 15 year old boy who receives a sentence of 60 years for a violent crime in the state of Colorado must serve 75% of his sentence before he is eligible for parole. That means a 15 year old boy must serve 45 years (3 times his current age) before he is eligible for parole at the age of 60! That is correct. A boy that is sentenced to an adult prison at the age of 15 will be 60 years old before he is eligible for parole. A boy that has never held a job, never had a drivers licence or rented an apartment, had a bank account or voted. What constitutes a violent crime? Robbery, assault or even being the accomplice in a violent crime but not responsible for any violent act.
These sentences have been handed out without discretion over the last 20 years during our war on crime and war on our youth. Our tough on crime policies have hit our youth the hardest. These young people have been the victim of over zealous, politically minded district attorneys who make a name for themselves on the backs of our youth. Our indiscriminate crime policies have taken thousands of youth and condemned them to grow up and develop behind prison walls. We have stood by and allowed it to happen.
Across the nation are thousands of men and women who will spend most of their productive lives behind prison doors. Is this productive? Is this necessary? Is this cost effective? We are finally realizing that it is not. But what about those already condemned by these laws? What are we going to do about them? Can we, in good conscience, leave them to rot in these places, killing their hope and their humanity? I hope not. Only time will tell.
According to recent research and reporting presented by The Sentencing Project, we have seen a dramatic increase in the use of Life Without Parole sentences in the United States since 1984. Old and young alike destined to languish and die in our prisons. What a legacy to leave for our generation. You can read "LIFE GOES ON:THE HISTORIC RISE IN LIFE SENTENCES IN AMERICA"
WE NEED TO BE THE CHANGE AND FIND A BETTER WAY! Rehabilitation....not long term incarceration creates a better world for everyone!
It has long been understood by advocates that juveniles who commit serious crimes have suffered traumatic events in their lives. Many of the juveniles who have committed violent acts are products of physically and sexually abusive homes, homes where they have witnessed the abuse of a parent, or they have been the victim of crime or criminal acts or been raised in violent communities. We know this because we have met and spoken with the inmates themselves. I can tell you from personal experience that I have not met a single individual inmate that came from a perfectly normal household with a loving family who has been convicted of a violent crime. That doesn't mean that they do not exist. There are other individuals who are guilty of violent crime that suffer from mental illness. In almost every case in which a child kills a parent or parents, there is a history of abuse or severe mental illness. The cases of Jacob Ind and Nathan Yabanez are perfect examples. While child protection authorities were notified numerous times concerning these two young men, nothing was ever done to end the abuse in their homes. Our own systems and authorities failed to protect these children and keep them from harm. I know of young men who have reacted with protective violence when their mother was being beaten by her husband. I know of young people who have grown up in foster homes because of family tragedies and those foster homes were abusive. The violence that these children endured, the stories that I have heard and the deep pain and sadness in these young peoples eyes have left me in grief and terror. They have suffered things, seen things that no child should ever experience.
The prison system and those responsible for the care and rehabilitation of female inmates understand that the majority of those women have suffered some sort of trauma or abuse. It is finally being researched and recorded that men have suffered these same traumatic events and abuses as well. To me and those who come from the religious community or from the behavioral science community it is an obvious assumption. We don't believe or assume that a person is just "bad" or violent by nature. We know that human beings and especially children are impacted by their environments, their circumstance and events in their lives. Much research and attention has been given to the high rate of post traumatic stress disorder in returning military veterans and the violent incidences that occur after they return home. Veterans are given information concerning warning signs so that they will seek help for PTSD but often that help is given too late.
With all this information you would think we would be compelled to reevaluate the way we treat and rehabilitate violent and addicted inmates. The prison system has never even thought to look at the why only carry out punishment and condemnation. The Center for Behavioral Health Services and Criminal Justice Research at Rutgers University in New Jersey recently released a report concerning the rates of traumatic events in male inmates. "Eighty-five percent reported being a victim of a crime-related event, such as robbery or home invasion. More than three quarters of the men had been physically or sexually abused.State Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said at first he almost didn’t believe the figures. "When I saw the numbers and I saw the prevalence of trauma overall, I was just blown away," he said. "I couldn’t believe that so many, such a high percentage of our offenders — so I called her up and said, are you sure about these numbers?"
If the goal of prison is to correct the behavior of the inmate so that he/she returns to be a contributing member of our communities then we have to stop thinking of these individuals as "criminals" and start looking at them as human beings. These inmates are people....wounded, misguided, abused people who see themselves as failures. It is up to us to instruct them and guide them to a better life. It is our job to take care of the widow, the poor and the fatherless, to teach and train young men and women in the way they should go and to help our brothers/sisters to find the path to a good life. We can't lock them in a little room, away from family, community, education and treatment and expect to have things turn out differently when they come home. Prison is supposed to be a time out. Not a lifestyle.
In the United States prisons operate with very limited oversight and the oversight that is in place has little authority or impact. Prisons operate without accountability and because of this America has some of the most egregious conditions in the western world.
We are the only nation in the world that sentences juveniles to life without parole. In the process of justice in these cases, juveniles are held in county jails in solitary confinement for extended periods of time. Maybe even years. Once they are sentenced as adults to serve these sentences they are transferred to adult prisons and once again held in solitary confinement. No sun light, no human contact, no mental stimulation and no hope.
Aside from this kind of torture in our prisons, there are many other abuses that happen everyday in our systems. Women are intimidated and bullied and raped. Men are beaten, hosed, and raped. The mentally ill are tortured for fun...just to watch them freak out. I know that it seems impossible and maybe an over exaggeration but I assure you that it is not. I know of groups of men who have been "set-up" during their workout time where a fight broke out. The entire gym was locked down, every inmate ordered on his face. Every inmate strip searched to record any marks, bruises or scrapes and then ordered to their cells. The inmate who were involved in the fight were never disciplined. Forty five men were held in solitary lock down for 2 weeks without a disciplinary write up, taken to a hearing without knowledge of the charges or time to prepare. The guard reports from the night of the incident were not presented and when the inmates demanded to see them they were told that they were not available. When all was said and done, everyone of those inmates was transferred to a supermax facility. The reason? These forty five men had stood up against the changes that were being made inside the prison that were abusive and degrading. Prison guards and th warden were creating a prison guard posse who's sole job was to threaten and intimidate and harass inmates and remove isolate them if they spoke up. Retaliation is an ever present threat in American prisons and inmates learn that you take your beating in silence. These issues and issues like them were brought to the attention of the Director of Corrections, the Governor and state representatives. Nothing changed.
In the United States, reporters must request permission to enter a facility and must have prearranged, stated business with a specific individual under the watchful eyes of prison guards and staff members. The public cannot enter into a facility unless they are part of a group or organization that has been previously screened and approved. Legislators may visit a prison facility after calling and making an appointment. In other words there are never any surprise visits. Everything is carefully planned and staged. I have toured prison facilities, solitary confinement pods and facilities and have volunteered with organizations inside facilities. Every time I have been screened, approved and our tours were carefully orchestrated and guided. The guards were not allowed to speak with us and only provided guidance. The wardens and program managers gave very scripted responses to inquiries and we were ushered out with the assurance that everything was wonderful in "prison world".
There are other nations who are much more vigilant in their prison oversight. It does not mean that abuse in prisons is eliminated, it means that when it happens someone will have to answer for it.
Our prisons house addicts, mentally ill, poor, illiterate, crafty, creative, and yes, mean people. They will not transform into anything else if we put them in abusive, isolated punishment colonies of hopelessness. If we want to stop spending billions of dollars on prisons every year, we are going to have to order the doors of oversight open and make sure that they are first given the most basic ingredient for change.....humane treatment.
As the community of America that holds our government responsible to uphold the tenants of human rights we demand oversight.....and positive lasting change.
To see an example of prison oversight please follow this link and read an article by Solitary Watch: Oversight in British Prisons
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