Juvenile Detention in America
April 11, 2012 9:30 AM   Subscribe

Uncompromising Photos Expose Juvenile Detention in America
posted by spiderskull (58 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
(Warning: depressing as hell)
posted by spiderskull at 9:30 AM on April 11, 2012


Some of these places look better than where I taught high school.

How's that for depressing?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:38 AM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks for this post, spiderskull.
posted by box at 9:40 AM on April 11, 2012


This is so depressing. If I wasn't a middle-class white boy with the right type of parents I would be in prison instead of graduate school now. I see those cells and I feel like I would have spent time there if I hadn't been given so many allowances as a result of my socioeconomics. I know what it would have done to me and I know what it does to the victims of the prison-industrial addiction of the US.
posted by fuq at 9:42 AM on April 11, 2012 [11 favorites]


Perhaps more than any other factor, the incarceration of youth is effected by the education of youth. Ross often cites the situation in Oakland, a city which spends $4945 per child in its public school system, but $224,712 per child incarcerated in the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center.

What. I can't even. The cells should be gold plated and have Tempurpedic mattresses and chandeliers for $224,000. How is this possible?
posted by desjardins at 9:46 AM on April 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


I got an email from my stepfather the other day with pictures of a newly built prison outside of Toronto. The facility has a lot of glass walls and is in good condition, being new and all, has a nice TV lounge and a gym and stuff. Pretty nice looking place. Apparently my stepfather has a problem with this, and thinks it sure would be nice if the government would put him up in a nice new facility like that when he gets too old to care for himself.

It's unreal to me that people think being locked in a facility where your every activity is strictly regimented by armed guards and your only company is other criminals is somehow "luxury" because you're not hanging from the walls in shackles and the accommodations don't look enough like a medieval dungeon. God forbid, some of these irredeemable baddies even have a barred window in their cells!
posted by Hoopo at 9:47 AM on April 11, 2012 [19 favorites]


It would be interesting to show this set of photos to two groups of randomly-selected Americans, telling one that the photos were taken in [horrible third-world dictatorship] and telling the other the truth about their origin.

I wonder how their reactions would differ....
posted by schmod at 9:54 AM on April 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


Books are only permitted in the classrooms, not in the cells.

Is there a rationale for this beyond barbarity? I'm really curious.

When Ross visited, six girls were in detention for offenses that included runaway/curfew violations, lewd and lascivious conduct, molestation abuse, controlled substance, trafficking methamphetamine, burglary and possession of marijuana.

I'm also wondering about this, because "lewd and lascivious conduct" is just way too vague for me and I'm confused about "molestation abuse." It's a weird wording that isn't really clear to me what the crimes were.

I spent a day working in the clinic of a US (adult mens') prison last week, and one of the first things I noticed was how dirty everything was beyond the first few checkpoints. I've never seen that level of structural grime and decay in any operational institution, especially government funded.

Something else that bothered me was how socially starved many of the inmates were: they were desperate for meaningful human interaction, something that drenched the whole place in sadness and nihilism.
posted by byanyothername at 9:54 AM on April 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


Look at the graph provided towards the end of the article. There is something very wrong with this country. Fear has become our prime motivation -- it shows up in our vast military budget, and in our skyrocketing incarceration rates. Why are we so frightened? What happened to us?
posted by Palquito at 9:56 AM on April 11, 2012 [14 favorites]


desjardins: What. I can't even. The cells should be gold plated and have Tempurpedic mattresses and chandeliers for $224,000. How is this possible?

Detention centers are prisons, built to securely house inmates for an extended period of time. Schools don't require the same level of supervision, don't have to feed, cloth, and provide sleeping arrangements for all the students. The article mentions one facility has an 8:1 ratio for inmates to overseers, while US high schools typically have between 30 and 40 students per teacher.

Prisons are expensive industries. But dangerous kids need to be locked up, so they can learn their lessons and re-enter society, so the cost is totally worth it.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:56 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


When people complain about prisoners being given all kinds of luxuries (cable tv! free college education!) I suggest to them that they, too, take advantage of the state's hospitality. All it takes is robbing a store with a gun, and they'll get all these benefits!

Surprisingly, none of them have gone for this idea.
posted by cereselle at 9:57 AM on April 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


But dangerous kids need to be locked up, so they can learn their lessons and re-enter society

Children should learn their lessons in school.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:04 AM on April 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


The United States of Vindictiveness
posted by Thorzdad at 10:06 AM on April 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think the "luxuries" are heavily tempered with the constraints.

"They come in once a day and do a search of my room," says the 14 Year old girl. "Everything I have in there, EVERYTHING, goes out–including the inside of the mattress and a body search–once a day. It happens anytime. Random."


Palquito: Why are we so frightened? What happened to us?

I wonder, when did this happen? These terrible graphs are terrible, but they're only a snapshot of what it's like now. And were are there any nations that had such grim statistics, but turned themselves around? The article mentions the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, but doesn't go into much detail. You can find more at the Anne E. Casey Foundation website.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:08 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good post, spiderskull.
posted by doctornemo at 10:19 AM on April 11, 2012


filthy light thief: But dangerous kids need to be locked up, so they can learn their lessons and re-enter society

justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow: Children should learn their lessons in school.

In case it wasn't clear, I was being sarcastic. My wife is a high school teacher, my mom was an elementary school teacher, and I did some tutoring and socializing with kids in a local juvie for a few years. I've heard sad tales from my mom about little kids who are terrors, but primarily because of terrible home situations. My wife hasn't had any awful students, but she's only been teaching a few years.

But from my time with kids in the detention center, most of them are just kids. As mentioned in the article, most "have not reached full cognitive development and don’t understand the consequences of their actions." There was the little sociopath who beat a man to death with his skateboard, but he was the drastic exception. The rest of them were kids who had a rough life for one (or more) reasons. Some played the role of being tough, but others were just dorky kids. Many of them hopped in and out of detention, and the staff knew what to expect with them. Some repeat visitors did well enough to get special privileges pretty quickly on their return, but they were still returning. The food prep overseer played favorites, so a few kids got lucky and got good kitchen experience, and there were other really bright kids with some aspirations, but a few seemed to treat incarceration as normal part of life.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:21 AM on April 11, 2012


What. I can't even. The cells should be gold plated and have Tempurpedic mattresses and chandeliers for $224,000. How is this possible?

Allow me to explain. Until recently, I worked in PR for the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, which is a rather thankless task. For various reasons, including a ton of workplace instability, (at one point I went through three supervisors in four months), I left and am now contracting for a nonprofit. To incarcerate juveniles constitutionally, you have to have a host of services including education (Georgia's DJJ is an accredited school system unto itself), mental health, medical, and others. The bottom line is it costs $200 per day to incarcerate a juvenile in Georgia. The adult system, because they just lock people up without access to a lot of services, can incarcerate someone for about $40 per day.

One of my tasks in the almost five years I was at DJJ was accompanying Richard Ross while he photographed youth and facilities in Georgia. If I've got time later, I'll post a little about that experience.

Thanks for posting this Spiderskull. This is an issue that deserves more attention.
posted by dortmunder at 10:28 AM on April 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


desjardins: What. I can't even. The cells should be gold plated and have Tempurpedic mattresses and chandeliers for $224,000. How is this possible?

Filthy Light Thief: Detention centers are prisons, built to securely house inmates for an extended period of time. Schools don't require the same level of supervision, don't have to feed, cloth, and provide sleeping arrangements for all the students. The article mentions one facility has an 8:1 ratio for inmates to overseers, while US high schools typically have between 30 and 40 students per teacher.

The problem, of course, is that what you just said will end up being justification to cut spending on these kids in juvi because it's not fair that more money gets spent on them than your average high schooler.

Ugh.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:34 AM on April 11, 2012


$224,000. How is this possible?
Because they are for-profit institutions? (I'm sure they don't call themselves that.) If I understand correctly, the prison gets almost a quarter of a million dollars per prisoner. Paid by the taxpayer, woo! Gee, I don't see any problem with a huge cash incentive to lock up young black kids. Do you?

Oh, and don't rehabilitate them. God forbid they take a book to their rooms and actually learn something. No, it's best to keep them ignorant and angry so that when they grow up they can (hopefully!) end up in other for-profit institutions where aren't afforded a sliver of dignity. Hooray rich people with no ethical or moral grounding whatsoever! I would not be surprised if police and/or prosecutors and/or judges got tidy kickbacks for sending kids away. Or maybe this is all made up in my brain and I am a failed conspiracy theorist.

Yeah, pretty depressed now. Ugh.
posted by Glinn at 10:34 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would not be surprised if police and/or prosecutors and/or judges got tidy kickbacks for sending kids away

It happens.
posted by dortmunder at 10:37 AM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


The facility is operated by Mississippi Security Police, a private company.

The name alone is terrifying.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:39 AM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


MiSePo
posted by telstar at 10:41 AM on April 11, 2012


I thought books could be used to hide contraband, which is why they're not allowed in cells.

Last month I read theHandbook for a low-security facility for adults in New Jersey, and inmates are allowed two books at a time. (So if I send in another book as a gift, the inmate has to do, what, donate his current books to the library? I guess we'll find out.) Only hardcover books can be sent as gifts, and those directly from Amazon. *sigh* How are these inmates expected to keep up with current events, or to rehabilitate themselves, without something decent at hand to read?
posted by wenestvedt at 10:46 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


> I wonder, when did this happen?

I may be reading this wrong, but it looks like there was an upswing in the early 90s and continued throughout (pdf). Another report at that site show a recent slight decline.

"Juvenile facilities reported 51% more juvenile delinquents committed to residential placement in 1999 than in 1991"
posted by timfinnie at 10:47 AM on April 11, 2012


Most of these kids, from the minute they're born, are shown in ways large and small that society doesn't give a shit about them. Hey, kid, welcome to the world: you're brown and/or poor and therefore last in line for everything, if there's anything left at all. Actions that would get a middle-class kid a timeout and a diagnosis of and treatment for a developmental delay or learning disability gets a brown and/or poor kid labeled "disruptive" and then criminal.

And we throw up our hands in wonder at how anti-social they are! It's such a surprise!
posted by rtha at 10:58 AM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


You know rtha, you're right, but not because they're brown. It's a derail, but I think it bears mentioning that there's a large population out there that society doesn't give a shit about. Yes, many of them are brown, or black, or yellow, or coffee colored, but a lot are also white, and pink, and orangey.

You were right that actions and reactions are not equal when comparing different socio-economic statuses. But the color of one's skin is no longer the primary issue there.

/derail off.
posted by Blue_Villain at 11:08 AM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


But the color of one's skin is no longer the primary issue there.

Did I say it was? This is why I made sure to be explicit that class issues are a big part of how kids end up in the system. I don't even understand why you would make this point.
posted by rtha at 11:15 AM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


"a developmental delay or learning disability gets a brown and/or poor kid labeled "disruptive" and then criminal."
posted by Blue_Villain at 11:20 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just so I'm not misunderstood, I was not insinuating that the prisons were some kind of luxurious hideaway due to the amounts of money being spent. The pictures make that clear. I'm all in favor of rehabilitation and education programs and better facilities. What I meant was that there's got to be some amount of waste or corruption going on if that much money is being spent for little or no reduction in recidivism.

Glinn nails it - there's no incentive for private prisons to cut down on the number of prisoners, and it would not surprise me one iota if they actively lobbied for harsher drug laws and donated to tough-on-crime politicians. I am 100% against private prisons - those should be managed by the state as they are (theoretically) serving the public interest.
posted by desjardins at 11:35 AM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


And anyway, if we're okay with private prisons, why not privatize the court system?
posted by desjardins at 11:35 AM on April 11, 2012


"Apparently my stepfather has a problem with this, and thinks it sure would be nice if the government would put him up in a nice new facility like that when he gets too old to care for himself."

We've got a local homeless guy who selectively assaults someone (or commits a similar crime) every fall to get six months in prison so he's off the streets for the winter. I'm sure your stepfather could do the same. In the past he's occasionally miscalculated and occasionally gotten two years, but it works pretty well for him.

"why not privatize the court system?"

It's called mandatory binding arbitration.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:40 AM on April 11, 2012


I drive by this place almost daily. I'm a bit heartened, I guess, to see that it doesn't look nearly so bad inside as many of the other places photographed.

I must say though, the thing that stands out to me most of all about Leahy is that in eight years of driving by there, I've only seen the basketball courts and recreation area (which are actually really well-kept and nice-looking, besides the razor wire) in use one time. Out of literally thousands of times I've driven by and looked.
posted by rollbiz at 11:41 AM on April 11, 2012


Oh god, my (foster) nephew is in one of these right now. So far, according to him, he's learned how to "make a weapon out of almost anything!" He says that this is a good training ground for when he goes to real prison some day. That's what all the kids in there say, he claims. Oh, and he also says he's finally figured out what he wants to be: a cop... I can't even think about that. (I hope beyond hope that it's just typical, weird, teenage logic at play, and not something actually attainable, but this is the U.S., so who the hell knows. There may even be special scholarships for the most psychotic cop-wannabes.)

After six months in there, he talks like a robot now. All of his conversations sound like he's memorized a behavioral psychology textbook's glossary. It's now completely impossible to tell when he's being truthful, even for the woman who raised him, my sister. All of his "tells" are gone now, and he appears more normal than ever, yet he seems, to me, to be far more messed up than he was a year ago, when he was still living at home. It's so sad to see this happen to him.

His background is beyond fucked up, of course. When my sister got him at three years old, he'd had a variety of different types of sex with god-knows-how-many people (his crack-whore mom and her fucked up "boyfriends"), had never eaten solid food that wasn't candy, and he was on nine bottles of baby formula per day. He had a mouth full of tiny, grey, rotted teeth and an atrocious vocabulary. On the first day I met him we were playing, and I took a sharp object away from him so he wouldn't get hurt, and he smacked me hard across the face and called me a "filthy cunt." At three years old. It was surreal.

His foster family turned him around on the outside by giving him lots of love, responsibility, a safe upbringing, you name it — therapy since he was four years old, tons of attention, switching doctors/meds when progress wasn't being made. Then at 16 he admitted that he'd been taking animals apart while they were still alive... they tried to work through this with him with the aid of therapy, but he begged to be taken away before something worse happened, so they let him go finally, after he attempted to poison my sister for not giving him cake before dinner.

They also had no choice but to release him back into the system because the state had made adoption impossible. They tried for a decade, but they were unable to fully adopt him (even though his birth mother had since passed away, and his bio-dad was in a prison somewhere), which is the one thing in life this kid wanted the most. It was heartbreaking to watch this play out. He'd ask about the adoption progress, they'd tell him they're still trying but running into difficulties, but they loved him and considered him part of the family, and that they were not going to give up trying... he was inconsolable after these conversations. He needed a goddamn piece of paper to prove, to himself, who he was, and he couldn't get it. I strongly feel that if the state had relaxed its sphincter, this kid may have had a chance.

The state is currently billing my sister and her husband $10K for the first six months of his detention that they never really consented to, but were force to relinquish him to. This system is beyond screwed up. His parents don't have $10K, they can't get him early release, and no one knows what's going to happen when the bill isn't paid. Will they release him? Will he have, by that time, learned that if he goes back to his family and burns the house to the ground, he'll get to go live in "real prison"? What happens when they throw these kids out of these facilities? I don't know what the alternative is, but these institutions are no place for impressionable, emotionally unstable kids. It's heartbreaking; it really is.
posted by heyho at 11:48 AM on April 11, 2012 [33 favorites]


You know rtha, you're right, but not because they're brown.

It's not only because they're brown. Which is why I have the and/or poor in there. The stats for black and hispanic kids suspended from school are completely horrifying, and while the studies I've read show a strong correlation between suspensions and free-lunch participation (a proxy for the economic status of the school population), it's not the only factor. Which we seem to agree on, so I don't know why you're nitpicking.
posted by rtha at 11:50 AM on April 11, 2012


Also, if you want to talk about this more, please memail me, since I don't want to derail things any more than I have.
posted by rtha at 11:51 AM on April 11, 2012


As shocking as some of these are, they mask a few facts.

1. Juvenile crime overall has plummented over the past decade, down from the highs it reached in the '90s. You will never read that in the papers. It's in no-one's interest to highlight it.

2. Many many US jurisdictions have drastically cut their use of juvenile detention, mostly under the rubric of the Annie E. Casey Juvenile Detention Alternatives program. Many more need to follow the example, which is why this photo essay exists - to prompt those that need to similarly reduce detention of juveniles.

Stories like this frustrate me. Sensationalist reporting on a Bad Thing, which ignores significant progress or and countervailing reform trends, puts people off of doing anything, and breeds resignation and cynicism. Please tell the whole story, and not just the shocking bits.

And there are lots of opportunities for those who are shocked by the pictures: volunteer to be on a local detention center advisory board. Mentor a youth.


posted by jetsetsc at 11:51 AM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


When my sister got him at three years old, he'd had a variety of different types of sex with god-knows-how-many people (his crack-whore mom and her fucked up "boyfriends")

Goddamn. This is the most depressing thing I've heard in... months? years? Holy shit.
posted by desjardins at 11:58 AM on April 11, 2012


> When my sister got him at three years old, he'd had a variety of different types of sex with god-knows-how-many people (his crack-whore mom and her fucked up "boyfriends")


I think that's supposed to read:

he'd had WITNESSED a variety of different types of sex

At least, I hope it's supposed to read like that.
posted by Panjandrum at 12:11 PM on April 11, 2012


jetsetsc --
You're right -- this piece is on the sensational side and (unintentionally?) belittles the hard work people are putting in to make the system better. On the other hand, it might prove beneficial in raising awareness, both of outstanding problems and recent accomplishments made. If I could re-write this post, I'd put a little more balance and content into it.
posted by spiderskull at 12:12 PM on April 11, 2012


At least, I hope it's supposed to read like that.

Sorry, there was no typo there. I'd wager this happens to a lot of kids. Yeah, it's a messed up, depressing story, but it's this kid's life. I know him, and I love him; it's very real. We're as bummed out about it as you are, trust me. His birth-mother is/was tangentially related to my sister, who heard about what was happening and stepped up to give this kid a shot.

His birth-mom was a crack addict who had sex with men to make money to buy more crack, which I think is fairly common. The state took this little boy away from her when his older sister, the six year old, poured bleach all over him in his crib to try to kill him so she could have her mom to herself. Apparently she wasn't getting her needs met either. Go figure. This is some people's reality. Sorry for bumming you out, but... these kids don't all end up in juvie just because they stole a candy bar from the wrong 7-11.
posted by heyho at 12:46 PM on April 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


When I first moved to Tuscaloosa a decade ago, I was appointed as guardian at litem in a couple of juvenile cases. The juvenile court was in the juvenile detention facility, and it looked worse than many of the photos linked above. It's located right next to the county landfill, so you drive past the landfill entrance and then pull into the parking lot with a mountain of garbage looming over a decaying detention facility. The detention cells were on the back, facing the landfill. Most depressing place I've ever worked. They've since opened a new facility (twice as large!), but still use the old building for juvenile court.
posted by fogovonslack at 1:05 PM on April 11, 2012


these kids don't all end up in juvie just because they stole a candy bar from the wrong 7-11.

This.

Granted, some don't belong there, but some.. there's nothing else that can be done. And for some, it does turn them around. Others, of course, it doesn't, and they go on to real prison and waste their lives.
posted by Malice at 1:08 PM on April 11, 2012


The bottom line is it costs $200 per day to incarcerate a juvenile in Georgia.

That's still "only" $73,000/yr...I wonder why the cost is triple in Alameda County? I mean, I can think of many reasons why it would be somewhat higher, but they don't add up to that type of discrepancy.
posted by malocchio at 1:14 PM on April 11, 2012


His parents don't have $10K, they can't get him early release, and no one knows what's going to happen when the bill isn't paid. Will they release him?

No. The parents will end up in the adult facility down the street.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:24 PM on April 11, 2012


Stories like this frustrate me. Sensationalist reporting on a Bad Thing, which ignores significant progress or and countervailing reform trends

This is what the system looks like after significant progress

How are photos of young people being mistreated by our government "sensationalist", especially against the contextual backdrop of our unequaled prison-industrial complex?
posted by crayz at 1:26 PM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Granted, some don't belong there, but some.. there's nothing else that can be done.

Wrong answer. There's a lot more that can be done, but that's going to take allocating more money to helping build better communities and strengthening safety nets and somehow I just don't see that happening as long as we keep getting funding cut for, say, public schools and most people seem fine with that as long as their taxes don't go up.

I don't think what we have in place now is anywhere near a solution for kids who have been convicted of non-violent offenses, and for those kids who have, there needs to be a restructuring and revamping of how rehabilitation works. I have a lot to say about this subject from first hand experience working within an urban juvenile detention center that looks a lot like the ones in the photos (but thankfully not as bleak as the worst, probably because it isn't privatized) but am weighing whether that's prudent or not.
posted by stagewhisper at 1:28 PM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


...which isn't to say that there are't a few kids who I work with who, given the law of averages, are probably full blown sociopaths who are beyond ever being rehabilitated/having better futures, but I'd rather we not create systems that treat those cases as the rule rather than the exception.
posted by stagewhisper at 1:31 PM on April 11, 2012


but some.. there's nothing else that can be done.

Except to leave them in filthy, abusive institutions with no real educational or vocational opportunities, then release them when they age out, at which point they are almost guaranteed to end up in the (adult) prison system.

Well, it sure is working now! Let's just keep doing it!

Seriously, do you hear yourself?
posted by rtha at 1:35 PM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's still "only" $73,000/yr...I wonder why the cost is triple in Alameda County? I mean, I can think of many reasons why it would be somewhat higher, but they don't add up to that type of discrepancy.

I know CA's juvenile justice system is set up differently than Georgia's. In CA the facilities are operated on the county level. In GA it's the state level, and the state here pays poorly (no unions), so starting salaries for juvenile correctional officers are only $24,000 a year. I'd imagine personnel costs in CA are higher, for one, but I doubt that's the full explanation.
posted by dortmunder at 1:36 PM on April 11, 2012


Others, of course, it doesn't, and they go on to real prison and waste their lives.

By which you mean, we Americans, collectively, send them to a prison where we waste their lives while simultaneously corroding and dissolving on a mass scale the social and communal bonds that hold together our society

there's nothing else that can be done

The rest of the world disagrees

When one man is in prison, he has a problem. When a million men are in prison, it's society that has, and is, the problem
posted by crayz at 1:45 PM on April 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


Heyho, my heart breaks for your nephew and family.

The way I see it, by the time the kids are sent to juvie it's far too late. I think the cycle of child abuse and neglect has to be nipped in the bud right in the womb. Heyho's foster nephew is one of many sad cases of kids who wind up in the system because they are abused and neglected by their families. I wish the money spent on juvenile prisons could be spent on some kind of safety net for kids instead, ensuring they grow up safe, wanted and loved.

I also recall reading that juvenile crime has been falling and it's been attributed to less lead in the environment, better interventions for learning disabilities (I remember the days when kids with ADHD were "naughty" and kids with Asperger's were "weirdos"), and I think, a growing awareness that it's wrong to abuse your children. Unfortunately, many poor children (the ones who wind up in juvie) don't get the therapies they need. And there are still parents like the bio-parents of Heyho's nephew that care more about their addictions than their children. These are the kids who need help, and need it young. I'd rather spend money on helping the kids and stopping the cycle of abuse than building prisons for them.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:48 PM on April 11, 2012


this is heartbreaking.

vera, vera, what has become of you…
does anybody else in here feel the way I do…


posted by nickrussell at 3:58 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wells Fargo’s prison cash cow
posted by homunculus at 5:12 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now *that* is depressing.
posted by sneebler at 6:57 PM on April 11, 2012


"When Ross visited, six girls were in detention for offenses that included runaway/curfew violations, lewd and lascivious conduct..."

The hell? Truancy is mentioned, too. There is something very, very wrong here.

It's kind of amazing for me to consider all the run-ins I had with the law as a teenager in the early 80s, none of which had any serious consequences and most of which had no consequences at all. Caught with open beer in my vehicle? Pour it out. Caught driving drunk? Sit here on the park bench until you sober up. Caught driving without a license at 14 while doing doughnuts in the snow in a grocery-store parking lot? Here's a ticket for driving without a license and be careful driving home. Caught after an extended car chase? An arrest, an hour in the jail, and about five different tickets cumulatively resulting in a license suspension. On numerous occasions after curfew, I eluded the police on foot while they searched for me (memorably hiding out in someone's toolshed for two hours once).

But by my sophomore year in high school, I'd already become deeply frustrated with school and began being regularly truant. Midway through my junior year, I just stopped going at all. I don't recall how this came about or how it was arranged, but one day I found myself at the DA's office, listening to the actual DA lecture me.

He told me, much to my amazement, that truancy was a crime and that if I continued, he'd send me to the state's only boy's detention institution (since closed; it was notorious). That did frighten me and I (mostly) resumed attending school through the rest of that year. The next year, though, I began skipping most of my classes again.

Anyway, I wonder how many chronically truant students in my county got personal appointments with the DA to warn them off? Admittedly, this was a small town, about 12K people. Even so.

All this misbehavior might sound like just some wild teenage years, and that's how I thought of it at the time. Actually, though, it was because I was very unhappy, including being unhappy at home, and very angry and disillusioned, and not a little self-destructive. I'm lucky that in my foolishness and recklessness I didn't actually hurt someone else and/or commit a felony. I could have ended up in the system that way.

But I could have as easily ended up in juvie because of piddly-shit like truancy or curfew or drinking underage. And I can tell you what would have happened then. I would have gone down a different and much, much worse path than I ended up on. In some ways, there was a part of me then that would have been happy to become even angrier and, eventually, truly sociopathic.

It's not just because I was a middle-class white kid that I was treated differently. I was well-known as one of the smartest kids in my high school, so it's understandable that the various authorities would go out of their way. Understandable, but not necessarily right. I don't really see how I deserved any more consideration and intervention than any other kid doing what I was doing. But, regardless, I was the kind of well-spoken, smart (and generally pretty good-natured — I hid my anger pretty well, except when drunk) that adults generally liked, and I know that had very much to do with the leniency I received from law enforcement over the years. Hell, I played them, too, though I'm embarrassed to admit it.

All that said, I don't for a second believe that had I been non-white and poor that I'd have avoided incarceration. In my twenties, I was arrested for a few more things, too, and still I was treated very leniently. At that point I was old enough to look around me and see the disparity.

Everything about how the US is incarcerating children is wrong. But it's just that much more egregious when you consider how unequal the incarceration rate is between minorities and non-minorities, and the poor and those better-off. Jail and prison don't reform people, it's 96% punitive coupled with criminal socialization and training. That this is the case with juvenile incarceration is morally repugnant, the deeper and more serious crime here is that we've created and tolerated a society in which this is true.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:18 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Heyho, that is a truly terrible story and the part about the animals made me gasp out loud.

I teach in a high school that has many students coming in and out from 'upstate'. One guy got 3 years at 14 and then another 1.5 for fighting while in there.

My first year on the job, another foreign teacher (we were both new to the US) said that the high schools in a sense were preparing them for prison. They line up every morning, have to take off belt and shoes, get yelled at by uniformed security guards and then shuffle through metal detectors, again, in a line.

Also. We have the institutionalized grime too. Custodians don't clean surfaces (surfaces! Desktops!) Due to union rules, nor do they paint more than 6ft high. Wires are coming out of the walls, doorknobs fall off.

This is how we show teens from low income neighborhoods how much we care about them. They say they're not scared of juvie- they know people there already.

It's depressing. Not as much as Heyho's story, I just see the broader scale/more distant overview. Getting further into the individual homelife stories (more than I hear just in my role as a teacher and in passing) would probably put me over the edge.
posted by bquarters at 5:04 AM on April 12, 2012


I wonder, when did this happen? These terrible graphs are terrible, but they're only a snapshot of what it's like now.

While I've been unable to find historical statistics on juvenile incarceration, I think it's fair to make a comparison to adult incarceration rates, which are more readily available. Let's take a look at some statistics on prisoner population rates. Huh. It seems like the rates start rising in the 1970s and then really take off in the 1980s. What happened? Well, for one, the Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970. Of course, that's not the whole story, but it is the beginning. For a more in-depth analysis, we can look at the report "Comparative International Rates of Incarceration: An Examination of Causes and Trends", provided by The Sentencing Project.

Crime rates increased significantly from the mid-1960s to the mid-70s,
although the actual measure of that increase is difficult to ascertain because reporting mechanisms were much less sophisticated in those years than they are today. [...] Since that period, though, there is little evidence to indicate that changes in crime have been the driving force in expanding the prison population. In the most sophisticated analysis of these factors, criminologists Alfred Blumstein and Allen Beck examined the near-tripling of the prison population during the period 1980-96 and concluded that changes in crime explained only 12% of the prison rise, while changes in sentencing policy accounted for 88% of the increase. [...] Newly adopted policies such as mandatory sentencing, “truth in sentencing,” and increasingly, “three strikes and you’re out” laws have resulted in a far more punitive justice system than in years past. [...] Thus, despite the fact that the U.S. has a higher rate of violent crime than other industrialized nations, much of the unprecedented prison population increase of recent years is explained not by crime rates but by changes in sentencing and drug policy.


I will note, however, that according to one of the graphs from the statistics page I linked, it seems that drug arrest rates for juveniles have not increased significantly since the 70s. I wish I had more statistics to go on and I'll be checking out the Annie E Casey foundation to see what they've got, but I think it's fair to say that changes in sentencing policy are the root of the problem.

Why are we so frightened? What happened to us?

I'm just throwing this out there, but fear is a strong motivator. My own personal belief is that large-scale psychological manipulation via advertising has been used for years to scare people into behaving in ways contrary to their own interests and beneficial to the interests of others. I'm not saying this in a conspiracy sense, but in the sense that this has been a common practice of humans for some time now and has reached a pretty high degree of sophistication. Since there are many different people with different goals constantly trying to motivate people with fear, it appears to most of us that there is "a lot to be afraid of". There is no monster under the bed; the monster exists solely in our collective imagination. We must face our shadow.

Heyho (and your sister): Thank you for showing compassion and love to "the least of us" and recognizing the value of human life in spite of all the adverse circumstances it may exist in.
posted by nTeleKy at 8:55 AM on April 12, 2012


I got an email from my stepfather the other day with pictures of a newly built prison outside of Toronto. The facility has a lot of glass walls and is in good condition, being new and all, has a nice TV lounge and a gym and stuff. Pretty nice looking place. Apparently my stepfather has a problem with this, and thinks it sure would be nice if the government would put him up in a nice new facility like that when he gets too old to care for himself.

Your stepfather is, of course, misguided for resenting the prisoners-- but he should be resentful of those who intentionally seek to increase the incarcerated population to line the massive prison-industrial complex's coffers, at the expense of prisoners' lives, and the rest of us's safety. If our countries didn't spend so much money on aggressive wars and expanding the prison population, we could make a similar investment in care for seniors, the mentally ill, and others who need it, instead.
posted by threeants at 6:15 PM on April 12, 2012


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