I saw something on Twitter from the ACLU about a report that was submitted to the UN regarding the treatment of children in youth detention centers here in the US. It reminded me of my time working at the Ella Baker Center when I first learned about the horrors of The Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), formerly known as the California Youth Authority (CYA). Now, in my opinion, regardless of the name change, the DJJ will always be thought of as the CYA and no matter how much of a positive spin is placed on it, the DJJ will never escape the poor reputation earned by the “CYA”.
What I discovered was that many of the youth who were at the various facilities (many who had experienced unspeakable trauma, and many had special needs which were never properly addressed), came into these facilities in handcuffs and leg irons, were strip searched, and put in cinder block cells – where sometimes they were physically restrained or locked in isolation for days as punishment. Yet somehow they were supposed to be rehabilitated and come out of that deplorable situation OK? Because in actuality, what they were doing is systematically training them to march from a juvenile jail to an adult prison.
The sad and disturbing fact is that in this country thousands of children are incarcerated in either juvenile jails or adult jails and prisons, and approximately 67,000 children are locked up in immigrant detention centers. Nearly two-thirds are being held for non-violent offenses, including theft, drug possession, or skipping school, and the number of Black and Brown children are over-whelming when it comes to detention, particularly among youth serving extreme sentences. I think that makes the US the biggest jailer of children in the world.
So in a report that was released and presented this week to the U.N., the US was criticized by Juan Mendez, Human Rights Council and the U.N.’s special rapporteur on torture. According to the report, the model of youth detention used by the US placed children at “heightened risk of violence, abuse, and acts of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The report made several key recommendations: “eliminating juvenile life-without-parole sentences for children and the detention of immigrant children. There should be no use of restraints or solitary confinement under any circumstances. No children should be tried in adult court, and all children should be held in age-appropriate facilities”.
Makes sense to me and I’m not a child psychologist. Who needs a degree to understand that even short periods of detention undermine a child’s psychological and physical wellbeing. This is common sense! The report also points out that children’s healthy development requires developing emotional connections to caring adults, a requirement that most institutions consistently fail to meet.
And when it came to acknowledging what was made public in this report, what did the US do? Nothing so far. I guess our government has more important issues to focus on than addressing the horrors of what’s happening to our kids in this country.
What is wrong with this country? How in the world do you spout family values in one breath, and in the next one you completely turn a blind eye to the rate of abuse inflicted on children, whether it be in these detention centers, or when it comes to child pornography, or sex trafficking of young girls? And the list goes on. It’s a damn shame when you think about it. What is so difficult with coming up with a more humane and effective solution for our youth? Detaining kids hampers their development, so why not adopt non-custodial alternatives? And if they must be detained, then the detention times should be restricted to the shortest time possible and lengthening it should only be for extenuating circumstances. We should be looking at community-based alternatives, because they’re not only better for children but cheaper and better for society as a whole. Just saying…
children with disabilities. A very important concession that came out was that the CYA is required to develop a formal criteria for accepting children and to comply with Welfare and Institutions Code section 736. More importantly, the consent decree agreement states that the California Youth Authority “shall not accept more wards than can be materially benefitted by the CYA’s reformatory and educational discipline, nor shall the CYA accept wards for whom the CYA does not have adequate facilities.”