Youth in Adult Prisons

From a study by the NCJRS:

Major findings:

  • Approximately 107,000 youth (younger than 18) are incarcerated on any given day.
  • Of these, approximately 14,500 are housed in adult facilities. The largest proportion, approximately 9,100 youth, are housed in local jails, and some 5,400 youth are housed in adult prisons.
  • Of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, 44 house juveniles (age 17 and younger) in adult jails and prisons.
  • In recent years, the number of youth in jails has escalated, while the number in prisons has stabilized or declined.
  • The actual number of youth who experience incarceration in an adult prison is much higher than the number shown by a 1-day count, with an estimated 13,876 juvenile state prison admissions in 1997. There are no current estimates of the number of youth admitted to jails each year.
  • In terms of their legal status while incarcerated, 21 percent were held as adjudicated juvenile offenders or pretrial detainees, and 75 percent were sentenced as adults

Legal Scholar: Jim Crow Still Exists In America

From NPR at  You can go there and listen to the entire interview.

The New Jim Crow

The New Jim Crow:  Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

by Michelle Alexander and Cornel West

Under Jim Crow laws, black Americans were relegated to a subordinate status for decades. Things like literacy tests for voters and laws designed to prevent blacks from serving on juries were commonplace in nearly a dozen Southern states.

In her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, legal scholar Michelle Alexander writes that many of the gains of the civil rights movement have been undermined by the mass incarceration of black Americans in the war on drugs. She says that although Jim Crow laws are now off the books, millions of blacks arrested for minor crimes remain marginalized and disfranchised, trapped by a criminal justice system that has forever branded them as felons and denied them basic rights and opportunities that would allow them to become productive, law-abiding citizens.

“People are swept into the criminal justice system — particularly in poor communities of color — at very early ages … typically for fairly minor, nonviolent crimes,” she tells Fresh Air‘s Dave Davies. “[The young black males are] shuttled into prisons, branded as criminals and felons, and then when they’re released, they’re relegated to a permanent second-class status, stripped of the very rights supposedly won in the civil rights movement — like the right to vote, the right to serve on juries, the right to be free of legal discrimination and employment, and access to education and public benefits. Many of the old forms of discrimination that we supposedly left behind during the Jim Crow era are suddenly legal again, once you’ve been branded a felon.”

On Monday’s Fresh Air, Alexander details how President Reagan’s war on drugs led to a mass incarceration of black males and the difficulties these felons face after serving their prison sentences. She also details her own experiences working as the director of the Racial Justice Program at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Interview Highlights

On the number of blacks in the criminal justice system

“Today there are more African-Americans under correctional control — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. There are millions of African-Americans now cycling in and out of prisons and jails or under correctional control. In major American cities today, more than half of working-age African-American men are either under correctional control or branded felons and are thus subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives.”

On the war on drugs — and federal incentives given out through the war on drugs — as the primary causes of the prison explosion in the United States

“Federal funding has flowed to state and local law enforcement agencies who boost the sheer numbers of drug arrests. State and local law enforcement agencies have been rewarded in cash for the sheer numbers of people swept into the system for drug offenses, thus giving law enforcement agencies an incentive to go out and look for the so-called ‘low-hanging fruit’: stopping, frisking, searching as many people as possible, pulling over as many cars as possible, in order to boost their numbers up and ensure the funding stream will continue or increase.”

On President Reagan’s war on drugs

“He declared the drug war primarily for reasons of politics — racial politics. Numerous historians and political scientists have documented that the war on drugs was part of a grand Republican Party strategy known as the “Southern strategy” of using racially coded ‘get-tough’ appeals on issues of crime and welfare to appeal to poor and working-class whites, particularly in the South, who were resentful of, anxious about and threatened by many of the gains of African-Americans in the civil rights movement.”

On racial profiling

“I think it’s very easy to brush off the notion that the system operates much like a caste system, if in fact you are not trapped within it. I have spent years representing victims of racial profiling and police brutality and investigating patterns of drug law enforcement in poor communities of color, and attempting to help people who have been released from prison attempting to ‘re-enter’ into a society that never seemed to have much use to them in the first place. And in the course of that work, I had my own awakening about our criminal justice system and this system of mass incarceration. … My experience and research has led me to the regrettable conclusion that our system of mass incarceration functions more like a caste system than a system of crime prevention or control.”

Tough Love Rules from Gathering Voices



Gathering Voices post by Beth Pyles

Sooner or later, someone is going to tell you of a life experience that is beyond description in its horror and evil.  Here are some suggestions for how to not screw it up.

1. Suck it up.  Do not cry – not then, not while you’re in the room with them.  This is their horror, not yours.

2. Do not run from the pain of others.  If they could live through it and they can tell it, the least you can do is hear it.

3. Talk less, listen more.  They need to tell and they need you to listen.  They don’t necessarily need you to understand every detail.  But they do need you to pay attention.

4. Do not underestimate the cost to you of the listening – it costs you something of your soul to learn firsthand about the reality and enormity of evil.

5. Share with a trusted confidant your own processing – your feelings and reactions.  Think about how all this affects your own faith and worldview, but before doing any of the thinking work, simply feel your own feelings – after you’ve left the presence of the story teller.  Own your revulsion, your rage, your horror, your grief.

6. Find your own way to forgiving the wrongdoer(s).  Judging them and what they did is not the answer to your own reaction.  You need to do the work you preach and forgive.

7. Avoid telling the one to whom it happened about their need to forgive.  Maybe that’ll come later.  But in the throes of relating a story of great suffering is not the time to speak of forgiveness unless the story teller brings it up.  Chances are they won’t, except perhaps as a challenge.  People telling about horrible things that have happened to them are often, if not always, reliving the experience in the telling.  When you’re in the middle of the event is not the time to talk forgiveness.

8. Tell them you’re sorry it happened to them.  Don’t cringe from naming the reality.  The one who lived through it and is brave enough to tell already knows what it was.  “I am so sorry you were raped.”  “I hate that you were tortured in this way.”

9. Treat what they have told you as the strictest of confidences.  Never allude to it in the company of others – not from the pulpit (even in general terms), not in a social setting, not even in the presence of those closest to them.  It is their story, not yours.

10. Acknowledge that you don’t understand.

11. Never, never, never, say that you know how they feel.  You don’t.  Even if something very similar happened to you, you don’t know how they feel.  You know how you feel.  And sharing your own experiences when someone is sharing theirs is stealing center stage for yourself.

12. Maintain eye contact.  It’s tempting to look anywhere but into the eyes of the suffering, but they need that contact from you.  Give it to them.