Earlier, the ACLU blog posted about how vulnerable young people are in adult prisons:
Regular readers of The New York Times know that columnist Nicolas Kristof is a forceful advocate on behalf of human rights around the world. In his column on Thursday, January 28th — “Kids in Crisis (Behind Bars)” — he addresses serious human rights abuses that don’t require a trip half-way around the world to discover.
Instead, he addresses one of the most gut-wrenching aspects of our broken, dysfunctional criminal justice system — the physical and sexual abuse of children in juvenile and adult correctional facilities across the country.
This is followed by an account of a 16-year-old arsonist in an adult prison who was raped and beaten so badly he ended up hanging himself.
So we have a couple of serious problems here: prison rape, youth sexual assault, and subjecting under-18s to adult prison. Though, of course, juvenile prisons are no better.
While incredibly beside the point, I’d also want to express my annoyance at the above article’s consistent referral to teens as children, which we NYRAnians are saying ad nauseum they are NOT! Of course, maybe the label is fitting here, in another thing we point out a lot, as these under-18s are subjected to adult time for adult crimes yet when law-abiding have no adult rights or privileges. But again, this is all a little beside the point, yet still merited a mention.
Let’s read on. Here’s another important part…
The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), which was signed into law in 1996, was originally intended to prevent the federal courts from being overwhelmed with “frivolous” prisoner lawsuits. However, over a decade of experience with the law has shown that it has too often been used to deny justice to victims of prison rape and assault, as well as other serious rights violations.
In essence, the PLRA has served to prevent the courts from fulfilling their proper and critically important role of protecting the most vulnerable individuals behind bars — children. Youth are, as clearly established by the recent Justice Department report, an extremely vulnerable population behind bars, and forcing them to jump through very complex and burdensome administrative hoops in order to access the protections of the courts makes them even more susceptible to abuse.
Unfortunately, the PLRA also prevents instances of abuse from ever being uncovered in the first place because in many instances it virtually immunizes prison officials from accountability to the Constitution and federal laws.
In other words, young people, your minds are too immature for drinking alcohol, watching R-rated movies, or controlling your own education, but if you commit a crime (or just piss off your parents, since that will get you sent to a behavior mod facility where conditions are about the same), your punishment is essentially being raped by larger inmates and having no recourse. Prison rape is of course a serious problem for all ages, as there is no such thing as “acceptable rape”, but I can agree that young people are in an even worse position with it, with their very few rights in general society, paired with ideas that youth are adult property, an idea that can manifest in unspeakably horrifying ways in the mind of an older predatory inmate or prison staff member.
So what’s the solution?…
Thankfully, Rep. Robert Scott (D-Va.), Chair of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, introduced legislation in December — the Prison Abuse Remedies Act (PARA) — which would help to fix the worst problems caused by the PLRA, such as the eliminating the hurdles to children accessing the protections of the courts by exempting those under the age of 18.
That’d be great! I just hope younger prisoners having that right would actually be honored. One thing we learn repeatedly when advocating for anyone’s rights is that just because you may technically have a legal right doesn’t mean you’ll be able to act on the right. Of course, this doesn’t say much about preventing the prison abuse from happening in the first place.
And this is yet another way our society outright lies by consistently saying how important the safety and well-being of youth are. If that were true, why are they being subjected to these harsh conditions? Or are only some youth considered worthy of “protection”, the “good” little boys and girls who are obedient and passive? That youth who don’t make themselves worthy of the childhood pedestal reserved for beacons of innocence and purity deserve to be punished severely, worse than adult criminals, for not fitting into the designated mold at all times.
Now don’t get me wrong. Youth criminals still deserve to be punished and jailed for their crimes, of course, but there is no excuse for their incarceration to be so much more brutal than if they were older. And in the cases of behavior mod, more brutal and being subjected to it without a trial.