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Although established on the belief that the state must assume the role of responsible parent when the natural parents cannot, the reality has been quite different. Children are routinely subject to inhumane conditions in large impersonal custodial institutions.
-- Dan Macallair of CJCJ on the Current State and Future of Juvenile Justice

 

The 31,000 member California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA)  is the second-largest state employees union in California, and arguably the most influential lobby group in the state...the union spends $7 million each year supporting political causes.--A Closer Look: Prison Union's Influence on Budget in Question...The Daily Bruin, Richard Clough, 5/12/04

 

The CCPOA has been able to get 'huge contracts' in a state budget with a 'limited amount of resources,' which can detract from the funds allocated to other groups....that's a detriment to public education.
--Geoffrey Segal, Director of Reason Public Policy Institute as quoted in The Daily Bruin article by Clough

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 21, 2004

 

 


Young People--Incarceration and Death at Home in the U.S.

While United States citizens in Iraq are committing atrocities on incarcerated Iraqi civilians, at home here in the United States, we have our own incarceration problems.
Recently (particularly with the Bush administration, but with prior administrations too), the United States has decided to renege on international agreements and treaties when it deems those agreements to be an obstruction to U.S. current policies and political objectives. This is true in the arenas of environmental and trade issues, and in the United States' treatment of young people.

The United States is unlike most other countries with the death penalty which have abolished it for juvenile offenders. More than 72 countries with the death penalty do not execute juveniles. There are only 6 countries known to have executed juvenile offenders in the 1990s. Those countries are: the United States, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Nigeria. According to the United Nations (1998), the US policy on executing juvenile offenders violates international laws and treaties signed or ratified by the United States (Juvenile Crime, Adult Adjudication, and the Death Penalty: Draconian Policies Revisited). Clearly, most of the world agrees that putting young people on death row is wrong. At one time, so did the United States.

In addition to the execution of juveniles, some of the other U.S. youth incarceration issues include concerns over abuse and overcrowding in California's Youth Authority as well as the increasing practice of allowing more juveniles to be tried in adult criminal courts. From 1992 through 1997, forty-four states and the District of Columbia passed laws making it easier for juveniles to be tried as adults (OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book).

Juvenile Incarceration and Race
The U.S. policy of trying young people and sometimes children as adults has disproportionately affected African American and other youth of color. At the same time, "more lenient policies have been reserved for their white, middle-class counterparts" (
Juvenile Crime, Adult Adjudication, and the Death Penalty: Draconian Policies Revisited).  In 1995, African American youths made up 12% of the population, but were arrested at rates double those for Caucasian youths. In 1994, California  passed a punitive "Three Strikes and You're Out Law" which doubled the sentence for any felony if the perpetrator had one previous serious or violent felony conviction. For offenders with two previous serious or violent felony convictions, the law mandated a 25-year-to-life sentence. Not surprisingly, statistics reveal that in the 10 years since the law's inception, it has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color. African Americans have been incarcerated for third strikes at  rates 12 times higher and Latinos at an incarceration rate 45 percent higher than the third strike incarceration rate for Caucasians. (Justice Policy Institute (JPI) . Still Striking Out: Ten Years of California's Three Strikes).

Because of a zero tolerance policy which ends up resulting in more and more young people being arrested and detained for minor offenses, abuses have occurred. In an article from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice's (CJCJ) Justice Policy Journal (Spring 2003) entitled, Juvenile Crime, Adult Adjudication, and the Death Penalty: Draconian Policies Revisited, the authors note that Amnesty International has reported that a 13-year old girl in Tuscaloosa, AL was detained for 5 weeks in a juvenile jail for possession of what was believed to be marijuana but turned out to be oregano. And, there are other horror stories as well. Once these young people enter the incarceration system, they experience abuse and an environment that, rather than deter future criminality, breeds it. Furthermore, incarceration does not prevent crime. The Justice Policy Institute found that those California counties that used Three Strikes least frequently actually had a decline in violent crime that was 22.5 percent greater than counties using Three Strikes the most frequently (Justice Policy Institute (JPI) . Still Striking Out: Ten Years of California's Three Strikes).

Young People as Victims and Perpetrators of Crime
Statistics reveal that young people are disproportionately victims and perpetrators of crime.

  • In 1995 and 1996, juveniles were twice as likely as adults to be victims of serious violent crime and three times as likely to be victims of simple assault.
  • Overall, juveniles were at greater risk of violent victimizations in 1995 and 1996 than even the most victimized age group of adults.
  • Younger juveniles ages 1214 were more likely than older juveniles to be victims of simple assault (73 per 1,000 vs. 56 per 1,000).
  • The property crime victimization rate for juveniles was greater than the adult property crime victimization rate.
    (Adapted from Snyder, H. & Sickmund, M. Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 1999 National Report, p. 26. Washington, D.C.: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1999)

Analyses of the FBI National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) data for recent years indicate that juveniles commit crimes at different times than adults do.

  • In general, the number of violent crimes committed by adults increases hourly from 6 a.m. through the afternoon and evening hours, peaks at 11 p.m., and then drops to a low point at 6 a.m. In contrast, violent crimes by juveniles peak in the afternoon between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., the hour at the end of the school day.
    (OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book)

Clearly, if young people had places to go, programs to be involved in, and adults to supervise them, they would be safer from becoming either victims or perpetrators.

Young People and Our Future
America's future depends on much that we do abroad and at home. And it depends on young people. It is clear that we must adopt a course of action that values all human lives equally, regardless of nationality, race, ethnicity, gender, or age. The prison populations in the United States have quadrupled in the last 20 years and over half of that population consists of people under the age of 35. We need to intervene so that young people are no longer "the jail generation" (David Hoyle. The Jail Generation). The United States needs to get off the road to being a nation of imperialism and incarceration, and refigure what compassion really means.

 

References & Resources
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention  Statistical Briefing Book
Note: OJJDP will update its publication, Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 1999 National Report in 2005.

The Jail Generation Alternet.org

Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice

(CJCJ) Juvenile Crime, Adult Adjudication, and the Death Penalty: Draconian Policies Revisited

Justice Policy Institute (JPI)