At present, the American criminal justice system exposes many underage individuals to additional risks by placing them in adult prisons. Jails and prisons are dangerous places for anybody, but especially for children and teens. Tens of thousands of children, mostly teens, are prosecuted as adults every year, and some serve out their sentences in prisons where most of the inmates are adults.
Nationally, no single organization tracks the number of young people sentenced as adults because each state uses an array of laws and variables to decide which kids should be treated as adults. The vast majority of these children are charged as adults for nonviolent offenses. In some states, children as young as 14 can be tried as adults.
Children in adult prisons are also more likely to recidivate, or re-offend, than those who remain in the juvenile justice system. Several studies have shown that children incarcerated with adults are 36% more likely to be rearrested within three years of release than those who remain in the juvenile justice system.
The Conditions of Children in Adult Prisons
The conditions of children in adult prisons are often abysmal. They frequently suffer from physical and sexual abuse, as well as mental health problems. Many children have not been convicted of a crime and are awaiting trial. As a result, they may be held for long periods without access to adequate education or recreation.
Children in adult prisons are typically held in segregated units within the facility or in separate wings or buildings. They may also be kept in solitary confinement for their protection. Children are entitled to the same basic rights as other prisoners, but they are often denied these rights in practice. For example, they may not have access to medical care or mental health services. They also often do not have the opportunity to participate in rehabilitative programs that could help them reintegrate into society after their release.
Risk for Abuse and Violence
There are several reasons why children in adult prisons are at a greater risk for abuse and violence. First, they are often housed with older and more violent offenders. Second, they are not typically segregated from the adult population and are therefore more likely to be victimized. Third, they often lack access to educational and rehabilitative programming that could help them turn their lives around.
The vast majority of children in adult prisons are there for nonviolent offenses. 78% of children in state prison for violent offenses were sentenced as adults, even though they made up less than 20% of all juvenile arrests for violence. This means that the majority of children are there for nonviolent crimes, such as drug offenses, property crimes, or public order offenses.
Several states have passed laws prohibiting the placement of children in adult prisons. However, these laws are not always followed and children continue to be incarcerated with adults. In addition, there is no federal law prohibiting the placement of children in adult prisons, which means that children can be transferred to adult facilities in other states.
The Racial Disparity and Bias
It is well-documented that children of color are more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts. A recent study showed that black children are 5.8 times more likely to be incarcerated than white children. Latino children are also disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system, accounting for 28% of all juveniles incarcerated despite comprising only 18% of the overall juvenile population.
Several factors contribute to this disparity, including poverty, poor educational opportunities, and exposure to violence. But one factor that is often overlooked is the role that race plays in the juvenile justice system.
Studies have shown that children of color are more likely to be seen as “adult-like” by law enforcement and prosecutors, and are thus more likely to be charged as adults and incarcerated in adult prisons. This is even though research has consistently shown that children of all races are similarly capable of rehabilitation and should be treated as such in the juvenile justice system.
The racial disparity in the juvenile justice system is an important issue that must be addressed to toss and equality for all children. Children of color should not be disadvantaged simply because of the color of their skin, and they deserve to be treated fairly and equally under the law.
Protect Your Child From the Biases of the Juvenile Justice System
If you are a parent of a child of color, there are a few things you can do to help protect your child from the biases of the juvenile justice system:
- Educate yourself about the issue and be aware of the disparities that exist.
- Talk to your child about their rights and what to do if they are ever arrested or detained by law enforcement.
- Encourage your child to stay in school and out of trouble.
- If your child is arrested, make sure they have an experienced attorney who will fight for their rights.
Children of color should not have to worry that they will be treated unfairly simply because of the color of their skin. By educating yourself and your children about the issue, you can help protect them from the biases of the juvenile justice system.
There have been several high-profile cases of abuse and violence against children in adult prisons. In 2006, for example, a 14-year-old boy was raped by an inmate in an Arizona state prison. The boy had been sentenced to adult prison after being convicted of burglary.
More recently, in 2012, 18-year-old Michael Angelo Johnson was sexually assaulted and killed by another inmate in an Ohio state prison. Johnson had been sentenced to adult prison after being convicted of nonviolent offenses.
These cases highlight the need for better protection of children in adult prisons. Children incarcerated with adults are at a greater risk of abuse and violence, and they need to be segregated from the adult population to be safe. In addition, states need to provide educational and rehabilitative programming for children in prisons, to help them turn their lives around.
The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA)
The JJDPA is the primary federal law governing the juvenile justice system. It establishes several important standards, including the prohibition of placing children in adult prisons. However, the JJDPA does not have a mechanism for enforcing its standards and there is no penalty for states that do not comply.
- Children are at a greater risk of physical and sexual abuse, compared to those in juvenile facilities.
- They are also more likely to be held in solitary confinement and to attempt or die by suicide.
- Children in adult prisons are also more likely to recidivate, or re-offend, than those who remain in the juvenile justice system.
- There are mental health implications against incarcerating youths in adult prisons.
- The vast majority of children are there for nonviolent offenses.
- There is no federal law prohibiting the placement of children in adult prisons, which means that children can be transferred to adult facilities in other states.
Children Do Not Belong in Adult Prisons
- States need to pass laws prohibiting the placement of children in adult prisons.
- Children who are incarcerated with adults should be segregated from the general population.
- States need to provide educational and rehabilitative programming for children in adult prisons, to help them turn their lives around.
- The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 needs to be strengthened to better enforce its standards.
The American criminal justice system exposes many underage individuals to additional risks by placing them in adult prisons. Some safeguards are supposed to minimize their victimization. Although certain juveniles require extensive and secure incarceration, the incarceration of juveniles in adult prisons is wrong for both children and society.