Credo Action

Children are being housed in adult prisons across the country — it has to stop

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The petition to Attorney General Loretta Lynch reads:

"The Department of Justice must immediately launch an investigation into the practice of trying and jailing children as adults."

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    Children are being housed in adult prisons across the country — it has to stop

    It’s a nightmare that plays out across the country. Children are jailed in adult prisons, where they are subject to physical and psychological abuse that leaves lifelong scars.

    A recent in-depth investigation by the Huffington Post sheds new, and horrifying, light on what young people in adult prisons face. They are subjected to sexual and physical assault and psychological torture, with little to no developmentally appropriate services or support.

    It’s no wonder that, “compared to kids who do their time in juvenile detention, those in the adult system attempt suicide more often, [and that minors] in custody for similar crimes… who had served in the adult system were 77 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent felony than those who were sent to juvenile institutions.”1

    In 2013, more than 6,000 young people were in adult prisons.2 It’s a cruel and all-too-usual punishment that requires immediate intervention.

    Tell Attorney General Loretta Lynch: Launch an immediate investigation into the practice of putting children in adult jails.

    We have a juvenile justice system because children have an amazing capacity for change. Because their brains are still developing, children not only make impulsive mistakes that get them in trouble with the law, but have a better chance to overcome those mistakes and be rehabilitated.

    When teenagers are put in adult prison, they lose access to the trained staff and supports of the juvenile system. They also find themselves in an environment that can be actively hostile to their reactive, impulsive emotional state.

    According to the Huffington Post report, “Minors can be punished simply for exhibiting typical teenage behavior, like disobedience, not fully understanding prison rules, or not knowing how to cope with anxiety.”3 The investigation uncovered video evidence of conflicts between guards and young inmates. Where an older inmate might have been able to comply with guard demands, or remain calm in the face of emotional abuse, young people ended up in situations of appalling physical and emotional abuse — gassed with chemical spray, forcibly restrained, tied to their beds unsupervised, forced to strip naked, and verbally taunted.

    The consequences of such abuse are enormous:

    There is an increasing body of scientific research showing that when adolescents suffer from extreme stress and trauma, it can inflict permanent damage on their bodies and brains. A study led by the CDC found that children who experienced multiple forms of trauma, such as physical and sexual abuse, had a life expectancy 20 years shorter than their counterparts.4

    Children deserve rehabilitation, not abuse. The Department of Justice must launch an investigation immediately.

    Young people in adult prisons are subject to rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment from fellow inmates and guards. They are supposed to be protected by the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, which requires “sight and sound” separation of youth and adult inmates. But in 2015, only 10 states reported that they were in full compliance with the law. 5

    Young people are also especially at risk when they are subjected to solitary confinement. The devastating impact of solitary confinement was highlighted earlier this year with the tragic suicide of Kalief Browder, who spent more than two years in solitary confinement on Riker’s Island after being accused at age 16 of stealing a backpack. Solitary confinement is torture. Prisoners subjected to it suffer devastating, and life-long, mental and physiological harm.

    Our justice system should not be torturing children. Tell Attorney General Loretta Lynch to step in now.

    Whether children are charged as adults has little to do with their crimes. Nine states automatically charge 17-year-olds as adults. But otherwise the decision is left to judges and prosecutors who are often affected more by “hidden bias” than by real concerns about public safety. “One national study found that in a single year, almost 10 times more black kids were committed to adult facilities than white kids. Of 257 children prosecuted as adults in Chicago between 2010 and 2012, only one was white.”7

    We owe young people who make mistakes the chance to turn their lives around. If the Department of Justice steps in, there’s a real chance that these horrible practices will stop.

    We also urge you to take the time to read the important (and shocking) investigation by the Huffington Post: Cruel and all-too-unusual punishment: A terrifying look at life in prison — as a kid as well as the accompanying commentary: American Horror Story: Children Are Being Housed In Adult Prisons Across The Country. It Has To Stop.

    Thanks for standing up for children.

    References:

    1. Cruel and all-too-unusual punishment: A terrifying look at life in prison — as a kid,” Dana Liebelson, Huffington Post, 07/01/2015.
    2. Ibid.
    3. Ibid.
    4. Ibid.
    5. Ibid.
    6. Ibid.
    7. Ibid.