THE REALITIES OF SENTENCING KIDS TO DIE IN PRISON
Data and discussions about the causal effects of childhood traumatic stress in minors who commit crimes is replacing the “superpredator” fear-mongering of the 90’s. Still, more than 2000 people in the United States have been sentenced to life in prison for crimes they committed as minors—300 of them in California. And when kids sentenced as adults reach lockup, they are treated worse than adults. often placed in solitary confinement, or worse, in the name of keeping them safe—despite opposition from the UN and research showing how prolonged isolation exacerbates existing trauma and can lead to mental illness.
Joshua Rofé has more on the issue for LA Weekly. Here’s a clip:
The extreme violence of the early 1990s in places such as Compton, South Los Angeles and the Eastside helped spawn public fear of the juvenile super-predator and the thrill killer.
But, as psychologist and juvenile justice consultant Marty Beyer showed in her study of juvenile intent, most of these youths were marred by severe trauma long before they pulled the trigger or plunged the knife.
Such experts say that juvenile lifers experience a culminating day in which the effects of trauma, violence and youth boil over into the communities or households that wittingly or unwittingly turned a blind eye.
In Jasmine’s case, the streets raised her, not her parents.
“My dad wasn’t really never in the picture,” she recalls. “I was yearning for my mom and I didn’t understand why she wasn’t there. She worked double shifts, like, 16 hours a day. This is not an excuse, this is just the way it was for me coming up.”
At 14, she’d acquitted herself well during gang initiation. “I had to fight all the girls in my neighborhood. All at the same time. I come from three brothers, so I really knew how to fight. So it wasn’t that easy to get me down.”
Two years later, she shot a girl she didn’t know. Her court-appointed public defender assured her that she’d be tried as a juvenile and then placed in a California Youth Authority facility for seven years.
Instead, Jasmine was sent into the much tougher adult court system.
“I really did not even understand what was going on,” she says. “The lawyer just kept telling me, ‘Say yes. Say yes.’ Next thing I know, I’m pleading guilty and there’s no trial. They give me a life sentence.”
In the United States, more than 2,000 children have been sentenced to life in prison for crimes committed when they were 17 or younger.
Two years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law giving California’s 300 lifer children a chance at parole after 15 years — if they did not kill a cop or torture their victim. Now, often having reached middle age in prison, like Jasmine, some have been freed.
Beyond this, child advocates say it’s past the time to offer serious help to children who kill.
Katharine C. Staley, associate director of the Justice Center for Research at Penn State University, says children develop traumatic stress, a cousin to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), “when either the stressor is huge and just completely unexpected, and overwhelms any ability to cope with it, like a school shooting, for example; or, as is much more often the case, when the stressor is significant, unpredictable — frequently repeated.”
Some children kill an adult tormentor who raped or tortured them — often a parent, relative or family friend. Others are set off by “being exposed to ongoing violence between parents or gang members.”
Jasmine’s initial week in an adult prison set the stage for her horrifying life there. Juveniles often are placed in solitary confinement, also known as “segregated housing” — for their own safety, according to prison officials.
But at age 17, when Jasmine was processed and admitted, all the solitary confinement cells at California Institute for Women in San Bernardino County were occupied. A quick decision was reached: This girl would be housed on Death Row.
You can watch Joshua Rofé’s documentary “Lost for Life,” (trailer above) on iTunes.
GIRLS AND YOUNG WOMEN OF COLOR EXCLUDED BY OBAMA’S “MY BROTHER’S KEEPER” INITIATIVE
President Barack Obama launched a $200 million initiative to help boys and young men of color break free of the school-to-prison-pipeline and build successful lives.
Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, law professor at Columbia University and UCLA, and executive director of the African American Policy Forum, points out that My Brother’s Keeper overlooks girls and young women of color, who face similar disparities and hardships and need just as much support.
Black girls are suspended more than any other girls. They are also more likely than other girls to be sex-trafficked or die violently.
In her op-ed for the New York Times, Crenshaw calls the initiative an “abandonment of women of color” by Obama. Here’s a clip:
Gender exclusivity isn’t new, but it hasn’t been so starkly articulated as public policy in generations. It arises from the common belief that black men are exceptionally endangered by racism, occupying the bottom of every metric: especially school performance, work force participation and involvement with the criminal justice system. Black women are better off, the argument goes, and are thus less in need of targeted efforts to improve their lives. The White House is not the author of this myth, but is now its most influential promoter.
The evidence supporting these claims is often illogical, selective or just plain wrong. In February, when Mr. Obama announced the initiative — which is principally financed by philanthropic foundations, and did not require federal appropriations — he noted that boys who grew up without a father were more likely to be poor. More likely than whom? Certainly not their sisters, who are growing up in the same households, attending the same underfunded schools and living in the same neighborhoods.
The question “compared with whom?” often focuses on racial disparities among boys and men while overlooking similar disparities among girls and women. Yet, like their male counterparts, black and Hispanic girls are at or near the bottom level of reading and math scores. Black girls have the highest levels of school suspension of any girls. They also face gender-specific risks: They are more likely than other girls to be victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking, more likely to be involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and more likely to die violently. The disparities among girls of different races are sometimes even greater than among boys.
Proponents of My Brother’s Keeper — and similar programs, like the Young Men’s Initiative, begun by Michael R. Bloomberg in 2011 when he was mayor of New York — point incessantly to mass incarceration to explain their focus on men. Is their point that females of color must pull even with males in a race to the bottom before they deserve interventions on their behalf?
Women of color earn less than both white men and their male counterparts from the same ethnic or racial groups, across the spectrum. Even more disturbing: the median wealth of single black and Hispanic women is $100 and $120, respectively — compared with almost $7,900 for black men, $9,730 for Hispanic men and $41,500 for white women.
BILL WOULD ALLOW CALIFORNIA’S RELIGIOUS CHILD WELFARE PROVIDERS TO DISCRIMINATE AGAINST GAYS, UNMARRIED COUPLES
A California bill introduced Wednesday would protect religious child welfare providers from losing government funding and contracts for discriminating against gays or unmarried heterosexual couples or anyone else who conflicts “with the provider’s sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.” The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2014 is co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.).
The Chronicle of Social Change’s Brian Rinker has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:
Many private providers of adoption and foster care services are faith-based organizations, which contract with the state to recruit adoptive/foster parents. Some religious providers only recruit married men and women to be foster parents, refusing to serve same sex or unmarried couples because of their religious beliefs.
A handful of states have enacted civil union and same-sex marriage policies that strip the funding and contracts from faith-based organizations that refuse to incorporate those practices in their adoption and foster care services.
“Limiting their work because someone might disagree with what they believe only ends up hurting the families they could be bringing together,” said Enzi in a press release. “This legislation will help make sure faith-based providers and individuals can continue to work alongside other agencies and organizations, and that adoptive and foster parents have access to providers of their choice.”
VIRGINIA’S BAN ON GAY MARRIAGE RULED UNCONSTITUTIONAL
On Monday, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Virginia’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional. The ruling is a far-reaching one, as the Appeals Court has jurisdiction over North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Maryland, as well.
Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern has more on the ruling.