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UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of ten of America's presidencies and who has edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. We get over 5 million article visits a year. See prorev.com for full contents of our site

January 31, 2010

AMERICA'S CRUEL PUNISHMENT OF THE YOUNG

James Ridgeway and Jean Casella, Solitary Watch - While there are no concrete numbers, it's safe to say that hundreds, if not thousands of children are in solitary confinement in the United States–some in juvenile detention facilities, and some in adult prisons. Short bouts of solitary confinement are even viewed as a legitimate form of punishment in some American schools. . . .

In large part, this grim reality is simply a symptom of the American criminal justice system's taste for treating children as adults. A study by Michele Deitch and a team of student researchers at the University of Texas's LBJ School found that on a given day in 2008, there were more than 11,300 children under 18 being held in the nation's adult prisons and jail. According to Deitch's 2009 report From Time Out to Hard Time, "More than half the states permit children under age 12 to be treated as adults for criminal justice purposes. In 22 states plus the District of Columbia, children as young as 7 can be prosecuted and tried in adult court, where they would be subjected to harsh adult sanctions, including long prison terms, mandatory sentences, and placement in adult prison." These practices set the United States apart from nearly all nations in both the developed and the developing world.

Documentation on children placed in solitary confinement in adult prisons is spotty. But the cases of several teens in long-term lockdown have been featured in recent reports on kids sentenced to life without parole (another uniquely American practice, addressed in an earlier post.)

According to a 2005 report by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, teenagers in adult prisons often end up in solitary, either because they are considered disciplinary problems, because they feel compelled to join prison gangs, or because they have to be isolated from adult offenders "for their own protection." . . .

The PBS "Frontline" documentary When Kids Get Life focuses on five children in Colorado who were among 45 juveniles serving LWOP in the state in 2007 . Among them is Andrew Medina, convicted in 1999, when he was age 15, of taking part in a botched carjacking that led to murder. He is in solitary confinement at CSP, where he was interviewed in 2004 by Human Rights Watch. As reported on the "Frontline" web site:

"For unclear reasons, Andy, who has been in prison for nearly eight years from the time of his first arrest, is now jailed at the Colorado State Penitentiary, the state's "supermax" high-security prison. Andy was transferred to the supermax roughly a year after his sentencing, when prison officials claimed he was the leader of a gang that had started a riot.

"Andy explained the sequence of events as best he understands them to Human Rights Watch: 'They were doing a routine shakedown of our cell. … I guess they found some contraband. . . so they end up giving me twenty days punitive [solitary confinement]. I was getting ready to go back in the population. . . All the beds were filled up so they were waiting for somebody to get in trouble, go to segregation, before I could go back out there. Then out of the blue, I'm ready to go, and they serve me . . . papers saying, we got confidential information that you're involved with this security group [gang. . . I didn't understand, you know? It just came out of the blue."

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