Youth Justice Round-up: Infographics, SF Juvies Reject Outdoor Exercise, Growing Up in Prison…and MoreOctober 5th, 2012 by Taylor Walker
NEW TROUBLING JUVENILE JUSTICE INFOGRAPHIC
Despite recent juvenile justice victories—SB9, and the Supreme Court’s ruling against mandatory life-without-parole for juvies—there is still a long road ahead for youth advocates. Campaign for Youth Justice has created an excellent infographic illustrating the harsh reality of kids in the adult justice system.
The Chicago Bureau’s Lorraine Ma has the story. Here’s a clip:
Almost five years ago, Missourian Tracy McClard’s 17-year-old son, Jonathan, was tried, convicted and sentenced as an adult for a shooting that seriously wounded the victim. While incarcerated in an adult prison, Tracy McClard said, her son suffered from abuse, depression, and ultimately took his own life.
McClard, who said she believes all kids deserve a second chance, created the National Youth Justice Awareness month where non-profits, community organizations and families would gather to raise awareness about how youth are treated in the adult system.
In October – which McClard is hoping will turn into a nationally recognized month to assist juvenile offenders – there will be various events to mark the effort. There will be, among other things, service days, 5K walks and film screenings across 20 states in the country to generate support and, backers hope, give speed to recent gains made by juvenile advocates.
Just this year, the United States Supreme Court ruled it was not legal to sentence juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole in homicide cases. That built on earlier decisions where life without parole was ruled out in non-homicide cases and where death was taken off the books for all juveniles no matter the charge.
The rulings were widely seen as a nod to the notion that children’s minds are not developed to the extent that adults’ are, and that imposing some adult sanctions on youngsters, even in the most heinous of cases, was cruel punishment.
MAJORITY OF KIDS IN SF JUVIE SYSTEM AVOID OUTDOOR EXERCISE
Surprisingly two-thirds of kids in San Francisco’s Juvenile Justice Center don’t enjoy spending time exercising outdoors according to an anonymous survey conducted by the SF Youth Commission, although an hour per day is the state minimum. Advocates were perplexed and concerned by the results, which they suggested may point to a larger problem of depression and other emotional issues.
The Bay Citizen’s Trey Bundy has the story. Here’s a clip:
Of the survey’s 53 respondents, only 10 said they participated in outdoor exercise every day. When they did participate, nearly a third reported spending less than an hour outside.
The survey comes after months of debate between the San Francisco Youth Commission – which conducted the poll – and the Department of Juvenile Probation over whether detainees get enough fresh air, sunlight and exercise to satisfy state regulations. By law, detainees are entitled to one hour of outdoor “large-muscle” exercise each day.
“It’s pretty clear that young people are not getting their hour a day outdoors,” said commission director Mario Yedidia after reviewing the survey results. “The culture of the institution seems like it’s not really encouraging of outdoor exercise.
Despite the survey’s findings, Chief of Juvenile Probation William Siffermann has insisted for months that the hall is in compliance with all state regulations. “Some kids don’t want to go outside,” he said at one point, “and I can’t force them out there.”
Youth commissioners said that the lack of interest in outdoor recreation indicated in the new survey results took them by surprise.
“The results were not what we were expecting, but they speak to the gravity of the situation,” said Paul Monge-Rodriguez, a 23-year-old youth commissioner. “Kids at this age should want nothing more than to go outside and engage with their peers.”
The results demonstrated the hall’s need for more recreational programs, he added.
“There’s a limited number of recreational activities to fulfill the state’s large-muscle exercise requirements,” he said. “The survey shows there’s a lot of basketball, but it’s like being offered the same one meal every day, and people get sick of the lack of variety and lose interest.”
COMING OF AGE…BEHIND BARS
Richman Em was sentenced to 50-years-to-life at age 15 after a fellow gang member shot a man during a car theft. Now Em is 21, and at the request of Youth Radio, has written a letter about the direction his life has taken, and what it has been like to grow up behind bars.
Youth Radio has Em’s story. Here’s a clip:
Richman Em was 15 years old when he was sentenced to 50 years-to-life in prison. According to testimony during his trial, Em’s friends decided to steal a car at a carwash while Em stopped in to use the bathroom. When Em returned and his friends told him of the plan, he allegedly responded, “It’s on you if you want to do it.” But he was wrong — because Em was in a gang whose members were about to commit a violent felony, what happened next affected him too.
Em watched as his friends approached the driver of the car, demanded keys and money, then shot. Em didn’t fire a bullet, but he was still convicted of “felony murder,” a legal provision that in California means a person can be charged with first-degree murder even when the act itself is committed by an accomplice.
Today Em is 21 and housed at the California State Prison in Corcoran. Youth Radio reached out to him as part of our coverage of the national legal battle over long juvenile sentences.
Here’s a clip from Richman Em’s response:
The neighborhood I resided in and the school I was attending in the 9th grade was fraught with gang activities and slight racism. I was oppressed by Hispanic kids often based on my ethnicity. Because Asian and Hispanic gangs were rivals. So I began to acquaint with people who I felt had my best interest at heart. But then so much came with that and I began to feel stuck and obligated. My world would begin its downward spiral from there.
Hanging with these people, later on they would forcefully urge me to be a part of them. I would later down the line find out I had a son on the way. So I switched schools and stop going around my current peers, but they would catch up with me and told me if I stoped (sic) coming around, then it was going to be “onsight” with me. Meaning physical altercation every time I crossed paths with them. So I gradually went back. So my mom had a plan to ship me off out of state with relatives, but it became too late.
The memories that stick out to me as a teen (are) being a kid lost of his true identity. Not knowing anyone to confide in, who’ll understand the impasse I was in. Always having to look over my back walking home from school. (They) stick out to me because they (were in) a period in my life being a kid and fearing the future. It was (an) everyday internal struggle.
My feeling at the time of the robbery was a combination of fear, powerless, and disbelief. It wasn’t something I consented to, or anticipated. So when it occurred a shocking fear ran through my body.
Also I want people to know that we are more capable of change (than) what people think. So “to life” imparted to a kid is a heartwrenching dilemma. Being separated from family, and a life of normalcy forever. That hardship really changes a person. It’s not a slap on the wrist, our reality become(s) one with these concrete (walls) and to feel that “this is it,” “this is my whole life,” I only lived 15 yrs. (B)asically, it’s an indescribable pain.
UNLIKELY OPPONENTS OF PROP 34
And having nothing to do with youth justice, The Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL, the LAPD union), which is against Prop 34, has found a quirky well of fellow opponents among certain death row inmates. The prisoners’ reasoning is that if Prop 34 passes and the death penalty disappears, those condemned to death would lose access to guaranteed state-funded habeas corpus lawyers.
The LAPPL blog has the rest. Here’s a clip:
Now an attorney who has represented a number of death row inmates explains in a San Francisco Chronicle story how convoluted legal procedures surrounding capital punishment in California have caused most of the death row inmates to oppose Prop. 34 as well.
A recent survey by the Field Poll and the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley found that 42 percent of likely voters would repeal the death penalty while 45 percent would retain death as a punishment. Thirteen percent of likely voters are still undecided, giving interest groups on both sides of the measure incentive to press their cases through Election Day.
If Prop. 34 were to pass – and it is our fervent desire that it not – current death row inmates would have their sentences reduced to life. In the process, they would lose access to state-funded lawyers for habeas corpus. Habeas corpus allows inmates to challenge their convictions or sentence for reasons outside the trial record – typically, incompetent legal representation, misconduct by a judge or juror, or newly discovered evidence.
Therein lies the reason some death row inmates are urging would vote against Prop. 34 – had they not lost the right to vote when they were convicted.
Impressive infographic courtesy of Campaign for Youth Justice’s Jason Killinger.