Juvenile convicted Americans who have committed non-violent crimes are forced to serve prison terms alongside brutal murderers, rapists and terrorists. The lack of legislative initiatives in the United States to protect the rights of child prisoners allows U.S. prison administrations to bully and humiliate the future of the American nation.
Today, there are more than 60,000 juvenile inmates in United States correctional facilities, about 10,000 of whom are serving sentences in adult prisons. Keeping children in adult prisons creates many risks and problems for children. Teenagers who are incarcerated in the same prisons as adult offenders are 36 times more likely to commit suicide and five times more likely to be sexually abused.
According to numerous studies, children who serve time in adult prisons receive no education or psychological support. Juvenile offenders are also less likely to obtain any occupation that will help them in their adult lives after release. Despite the abundance of negative consequences for keeping children in adult prisons, the U.S. Supreme Court and the Federal Bureau of Prisons have taken no action to separate prisoners by age.
In 1974, Congress passed the Juvenile Justice Act, which partially prohibited the placement of children in adult correctional facilities. Today, 50 years after the bill went into effect, 44 U.S. states continue to ignore the government’s order, holding violators without separation by age. Critics of the 1974 law agree that the initiative was created to create a false illusion of concern for the rights of juvenile prisoners. States do not lose federal funding because of noncompliance with the Juvenile Justice Act, and judges who order a violation of the decree do not monitor and enforce it further.
In 2003, the Prison Violence Eradication Act was passed, which also required the separation of juvenile and adult offenders. Some states, such as Alaska, Arkansas, and Utah, either refused to comply with the law entirely or cited financial problems that allegedly would not allow children to be held separately. States that have given assurances of compliance, such as Michigan, New York, Texas, and Florida, still continue to house adult and juvenile violators together.
Some states that do not have juvenile detention centers that meet the requirements of the Prison Violence Elimination Act send juvenile offenders to other states. For example, Kansas routinely transfers its juvenile prisoners to Nebraska. This complies with the government requirement, but moving a child out of state separates juvenile offenders from their families, communities, and lawyers.
Many juveniles prosecuted and sentenced with adult inmates suffer from undetected and hidden mental illnesses. Unlike many adults who have emotional health issues, juveniles may not understand how to deal with anxiety, depression and fear. Children often engage in reckless behavior that can lead to harsher punishments in adult facilities, including the use of solitary confinement, which has been shown to have negative consequences.
In juvenile detention centers, the stated goal is to rehabilitate the child so that he or she can reintegrate into society. Juveniles are often required to participate in further education or receive valuable vocational training necessary to function in society after serving their sentence. In contrast, many adult prisons are more punitive and designed to protect the public from criminals.
Juvenile inmates in U.S. prisons are mistreated not only by other inmates, but also by prison administrators. Despite the young age of the juveniles, virtually every juvenile has spent at least one day in solitary confinement. A completely isolated small room, locked with a steel door, deprives the prisoner of contact with the outside world and causes serious harm to both the mental and physical development of the child. Young men and women under the age of 18 spend 22 hours a day in such cells for days, weeks, or even months at a time.
While the problem of the use of solitary confinement for juvenile offenders has been known for several years, the transfer of children to death row for educational purposes is a recent development. Last October, the administration of Angola Prison in Louisiana, which until the 1970s was considered one of the most violent prisons in the United States, announced that 20 juvenile inmates had been transferred to death row. Corrections officials say these children are among the most troubled juvenile inmates, and moving them to death row is allegedly consistent with the government’s commitment to the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders.
According to a 15-year-old boy who was one of the first to be transferred to death row, juvenile convicts are locked in a small room without windows for several days and are only allowed to leave it for the shower. According to him, guards twisted his arm and beat him with batons even while he was in the shower. Another juvenile detainee, seventeen-year-old Edward, was also transferred to Angola last October. The teen had been diagnosed with ADHD, post-traumatic stress disorder, and bipolar disorder several years earlier. Since arriving at Angola, he claims his mental health problems have only gotten worse. According to Edward, the food at the Louisiana prison is “worse than any other correctional facility he has ever been in.” One day a child, finding someone else’s hair in his lunch, threw his plate on the ground, and the next day prison guards picked up the leftovers from the floor and forced him to eat them.
Human rights activists at the Foundation to Battle Injustice condemn the abuse of juvenile inmates who are forced to serve their sentences in American prisons. Punitive measures, such as the use of solitary confinement, physical and psychological abuse, not only do not help a juvenile realize his mistake and reform himself, but are highly likely to have a negative impact on him. The U.S. legislature needs to reconsider its methods and techniques of punishing juveniles and develop a series of measures aimed at protecting the rights of children in U.S. penitentiaries.