America is locking up more young people than any other country in the world, in a 5-1 ratio. The Land of the Free? Apparently not for the “delinquent” children of this forsaken country.
With more than 2 million juveniles being detained each year in the United States, 95% of which are for nonviolent offenses, it’s safe to say that our judicial system is not properly protecting our children. Because so many of these juvenile-run facilities are privately owned, they rely on the crimes of young children to stay up and running. Minors, especially those lacking solid support beyond bars, are often left defenseless once they are locked up and in the system. Infractions are made, time is added, and because there are no real “rules” within juvenile court, a gray-area is formed and even a pre-teen can (in certain cases) be kept in a juvenile facility until the day before their 22nd birthday.
Thus, the “kids for cash” scandal was built. In 2008, judges Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella, from the Luzerne County Court of Small Claims in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, were accused of accepting money in return for imposing unjust sentences on juveniles to boost occupancy at for-profit detention centers.
At the expense of thousands of minors, Mark Ciavarella sentenced harsh and lengthy stays in youth facilities after something as minor as mocking a principal on MySpace or trespassing on a vacant property. And although there’s been a general decrease in the overall number of arrests since the “kids for cash” scandal in 2015, there has been a significant increase in the number of black youth versus white youth arrests in the United States.
As it turns out, it’s not the individual crimes that are behind these staggering racial disparities. No, it’s the authoritative people in this country and their twisted views that are to blame. Basically, it’s racism at its fucking finest.
And even though most delinquent youth are held in centers specifically for juveniles, this doesn’t make it okay. A recent study shows that locking minors behind bars:
– slows the natural process of aging out of delinquency,
– intensifies any pre-existing mental illnesses,
– increases the likelihood of becoming a re-offender,
– decreases the chances of finishing school,
– and reduces the probability of success in the laboring world.
And when it comes to incarcerating juveniles in adult facilities, the outcome is no better. Because, as facts would have it, adult prisons put juveniles at risk for all of these factors as well as the added potential for emotional, sexual and physical abuse.
For most states, children who are 14 and younger are pretty well protected against adult prisons. But there are thirteen states which lack a minimum age for trying a child as an adult. In certain cases, we are seeing children as young as eight years being tried in adult court, whereas other states have made their minimum ages set at the whopping age of 10, 11, 12 and 13.
It’s been far too long that we’ve treated our troubled youth like grown adults. We haven’t seen a decrease in crime ever since we started locking up non-violent offenders. So, considering 95% of our young people are incarcerated for said non-violent crimes, what are we doing here?
We don’t expect children to hold the same mental, emotional or physical development as that of an adult in any other aspect of life, so what is so different about our juvenile court system? What’s more, decision-making skills are among the last things to develop in the brain, with the rational part of the teen’s brain not being fully developed until approximately age 25.
America, we are locking up our young people only to toss the key out right before their eyes. It’s time to say, enough is enough. These are the future voices of tomorrow that we are talking about; they deserve a second chance.