Prison, We Must Do Better for At-Risk Teens

Jamie started in the school to prison pipeline at the age of sixteen because a cop had a vendetta against his family. He literally pushed his way into their home, knocked his mother down and broke her wrist. Jamie defended his mother. Was that enough reason to put him in juvenile detention until he was 21, unable to get even a GED? What kind of job was he supposed to get. He might have legally been an adult, but he had no experience to draw on. He had also spent extended time in solitary confinement. In Juvy it was called “Behavior Modification Program” or BMP.

teens a risk, school to prison pipelineI recently started reading a book that was published in 1997. The title is, “No Matter How Loud I Shout -A Year In The Life Of Juvenile Court” – by Edward Humes. It takes place in juvenile courts in LA. The courts then, and now have no idea how to handle children criminals. Some are hardened criminals while still in their early teens and some get mixed up in something and learn their lesson. Some come from the streets and some come from the middle and upper middle income families where they have every opportunity a child could want. The conflict is when to prosecute them as adults. There can’t be one rule that covers everything that changes at an exact moment yet this is what they try to do. Are kids responsible for their actions and at one age. Some get their lives ruined and some get let go until the next crime they commit. It’s a tough call.

During this time this book was written I lived in LA until my children were teens. I went through rough times with my kids. When my son and daughter were 15 and 18 we moved away. I had to get them away. Educating them in public schools was impossible. I pulled them out of bad schools and put them in other bad schools hoping they would be better. But the writing was on the wall if we stayed. We loved north to a small town. My son got his act together and started working hard. My daughter got pregnant and had her first baby at 16.

When I read today about the juvenile courts in LA in the 90’s, knowing how easily it could have been my children I was reading about, it is scary. Today they are 35 and 38 and they have their own teenagers to worry about. It is much worse it today than it was in the 90’s. Kids have less and less respect for teachers or anyone in a position of authority. So many have less respect for themselves as well. They were never taught respect in their homes. Many parents wanted to be “friends” with their children instead of parents. These teenagers I am reading about in this book are in their 30’s now. Are they alive? Are they in prison?

As parents we want to say it won’t happen to our children. It does, and when they grab hold of your child, or your grandchildren, the system doesn’t plan on letting go until they have sucked every possible way of making money from them.  Look at Jamie. He is now 32. He STILL doesn’t have a GED. Without that, how can he take other educational courses? How can he learn about something he is interested in when he doesn’t even know what that is?

Are there bad kids out there? Absolutely. Bad parents in bad neighborhoods, and bad parents in good neighborhoods. Some parents don’t want to believe their child would do these things, but they do. There is a saying, “If you continue to do what you always done you’ll continue to get what you’ve always got.” Parents need to have a better perception of the life outside their children are exposed to. There is no one protecting them. It doesn’t matter what neighborhood you are from or how much money you make. Some of the things my children tell me now they did 20 years ago had my jaw on the floor, similar to the things I told my parents long after the fact. We were lucky. Really lucky. Not everyone is.

In the past few years “The Law” has upped the ante. Now, instead of handling disciplinary issues that previously called for detention, being sent to the principle’s office or parents were called – now it is the police who called, who come and handcuff the children in the classroom and escort them out. Quite often the police are already located on school grounds replacing guidance counselors. They are also often taken into a courtroom in handcuffs, too. Why? Do the officers fear for their safety or is it for effect? Often the reason is not justified and does untold damage to the child’s self-esteem. Sadly, this affects black children more than it does white children and even Hispanic children. White children learn early in life that black is not as good as white and they carry that attitude into their adult lives and a new generation of racist attitudes is born.

An already bad situation with juvenile courts has been made worse. More adult criminals are cultivated. Black children learn their lives don’t have as much value. The juvenile courts are so overcrowded. There is no time for anyone to care. We need to do more to help in some way. Too many people are short in help and long in opinions and the children are thrown under the bus. . . .Blog posts and news about injustice in the world



Prison, We Must Do Better for At-Risk Teens

Guest Commentary

Published August 16, 2015

Since the late 1980s, at-risk teens have been subjugated to terrible injustices. Being socially labeled super-delinquents by politicians and media, legally tried as adults under get-tough legislation, and psychologically stunted by zero tolerance in schools and abuse in correctional facilities.

Today, you would imagine that America has found a better way to deal with juvenile delinquency and youth-gang crimes, but unfortunately, many states still implement outdated, misguided policies that continue to funnel teens into the juvenile justice system. This populates our prison systems. And to make matters worse, recidivism keeps increasing this rate—that is, teens become damaged goods after cycling through “the system” and often return to prison as adults.

According the Annie E. Casey Foundation, despite the good intentions and regulations in our system, teens do learn how to become better criminals from inmates, and…

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Bill Seeks to End Solitary Confinement for Youths in California

Youth in solitary confinement
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Treating children by putting them in solitary confinement inside a juvenile detention institution, even if they have committed a crime, makes it nearly impossible for them to end up well adjusted, functioning adults when what they learned as children is how to treat the world with the same anger and lack of compassion that was shown them. Any hope of it being a positive experience that could lead to a life of promise is rarely possible. They will never be able to wipe away the childhood years spent doing time in an environment that thinks nothing of treating them inhumanely and with abuse, physical and sexual.

The school to prison pipeline, with the intent of keeping the prisons full starts in juvenile detention and it often only takes truancy, an afternoon fight or a childish prank for a child to get sucked into the system. There is little recourse for a parent to keep them out of it, unless of course, you are a parent who has the money to buy their way out. Of course, the children the system goes after are going to be Blacks and minorities, and it is evident by the percentage of different races who find themselves locked up, the majority are going to be Black, then Hispanic and in much, much smaller quantities are White youth.

The media, or rather the corporations who own the media, has done a good job of convincing the public that Black men – and women – commit more crimes than White people. They are also led to also Blacks do more drugs. So naturally, it is the children of Blacks and minorities who find themselves locked up in greater percentages than White children in the juvy system as well. Are they less intelligent? Then Why? Because predominately they don’t have white privilege, they don’t get a white education and they have a higher likelihood of having two parents making enough money for a good lawyer. Lastly, police officers don’t patrol white neighborhoods with the same determined focus, pulling over, harassing, searching and arresting the youth from the white neighborhoods. They also don’t pull out their guns and accidentally shoot white youth because they are afraid for their lives

Minnesota has just experienced three consecutive years of double digit prison (investment) growth. Hennepin county arrested 44% of its black adult male population in 2001. Nationally, 13% of Black men can’t vote because they are felons. The racial disparity is clear to some of us. California now has a perfect prison feeder system. Nationwide, about 25% of America’s youth are being tried in adult courts today. Once these youth are treated as adults in our court systems, they rarely leave the system. Juveniles are more likely to be raped and brutalized, and suicidal, than adults within the system (they are just more vulnerable). See more at: Failed third grade reading scores

Test scores of 3rd graders are used to determine how many adult beds in prison will be needed, because they determine if a child is not being educated, in schools lacking the money to buy books and hire good teachers, they will turn to crime to make money. Although the very idea of that is sick, it probably isn’t to far off from the truth. There is always money in the state coffers to build brand new prisons and never enough money to provide good schools, since so many of them have been closed or have deteriorated. Enrichment classes like music and art have been eliminated. There are few school nurses or psychologist to help children who need the help. They are written off, they drop out and they are lost.

So kids, of all races, are prime targets when they are a little older, for keeping the prisons well stocked with inmates to satisfy the American corporation’s need for cheap prison labor. Plantation slavery never died, it just changed it’s face a little. Inmates, like slaves, are provided with the same substandard housing, clothing, food and medical care. The are brutalized and murdered and the people doing it get away with it. The injustice system is also a pro at splitting up families and shipping them far away making it difficult, and expensive to see them or talk to them on the phone. And it all starts with the kids.

Once they end up in juvenile detention, “breaking any rule” can have them put into solitary confinement. Racism from the staff is just as prevalent there as it is in adult prison. Kids they get angry. They fight back. Many are already broken by the life they have had up until that point. If you are a black child, the chance that one of your parents is, or has been in prison is about 50%. There are so many black boys with no father. That was the case for Jamie and his siblings, and now Jamie’s son doesn’t have his father, either. They had a mother who worked two jobs to be able to care for her children. His son’s mother has often worked two jobs to support her children, too. Jamie also had a hard time as a child due to epilepsy which made it hard for him to do things like boys his own age. Many children fight for survival any way they can.

Jamie Cummings is the man this blog is about, a man who’s life started in juvy at the age of 16, not because of a crime, but because he defended his mother because a cop, who had previously harassed his family, literally forced his way into their home, after Jamie and his brother had a fight outside the house. Even though the fight was over and they were in the house, and it involved no one else but them, the cop insisted on coming into their home even when his mother said it wasn’t necessary because everything was under control, he pushed his way in, knocked her down and breaking her wrist. In anger, both sons went toward the cop to defend their mother. He maced the older brother, over 18, and Jamie hit the cop with a broom. Is that an offense to go to juvy for? I guess it’s against the law to protect your mother from the man who hurt her because he’s a cop? An ambulance was called for her and she later filed charges and went to court because of his assault on her. I don’t know the outcome of that court appearance. It still didn’t stop the cop from filing assault charges on Jamie and sending this 16 year old to juvenile detention – because they can. They let the older brother go because he didn’t do anything where charges could stick, but a juvenile doesn’t have to commit a crime. There doesn’t have to be a valid reason.

That incident started him on the path that led to him not only being able to get a GED in all this time, because you can’t take classes when you are kept in the lowest levels of prison; solitary confinement, ad seg and G5 – all the same thing with different names. Only when you reach the level of G2 can you apply to study for you GED and he only made it to that level for a few weeks until they found a way to send him back to lock up. Guards have a vengance and they can do no wrong. How can you work with no GED and no training? This is what being sent to Juvy 16 years ago has done to him and many, many other youths. They system counts on you coming back to prison through the back door – parole violation. Well, they can’t have him.

In juvy it also made him an angry youth, not only sent far away from his family, so no one could visit, but also because he was kept there until he turned 21, not the nine months he was sentenced to. He spent extended stays in solitary confinement that added to the bitterness that led to severe depression. His last institution was in another state and he was sent there because he had given up hope and had sunk into depression. Missing his family was unbearable. He had no support. He gave up.

The very day he made it home he visited a friend and while leaving the apartment complex he was stopped by security guards. The police were called and he was taken to jail and they tried to charge him with trespassing. He had really only committed the crime of walking while black. It took 2 days to get him out. He had to go to court. The judge he was in front of was the very person who was his attorney when they locked him up when he was 16. He was let go, but the writing was on the wall. Living in a very prejudiced state, not being able to afford a good attorney, the options are few for young black boys and men. There are plenty of facts to support that. Having no life skills it wasn’t long before he decided to hang with a cousin who had a record and who wanted to hold up a club. He got scared and ran, but people in the club recognized him as being with the man who pulled out a gun and tried to rob the place. Guilty for being there. Black men also get much longer sentences than white men and he ended up in adult prison because of being with the wrong people at the wrong time. He had also met my daughter during this time and they had a baby he has never been able to spend time with. The few times she visited he was behind glass. That boy, who will be 9 in July is his reason for living. His goal to be the father he never had. And he has me, and I’m writing a book that hopefully will provide enough proceeds for him to live on while he decides what to do with his life to create value. Multiply Jamie’s life thousands and thousands of times. Not everyone has someone to help insure his success back into a world that is much changed and very unwelcome.

This is the effect of juvenile detention. It needs to be changed. Jamie still sits in prison today. Hopefully it will soon and he will make bail the end of next year. This is why I passionately write this book about his life. “Inside the Forbidden Outside”. Four of the chapters are posted on this site. Fill out the contact form on the bottom to be on the mailing list for more information as it get closer to completion.

Juvy destroys our young people. They can’t cope with the things they do to them inside. Yes, there are many youth who have committed serious crimes, usually coming from very dysfunctional families and violent communities. The way they are treated once they get into these institutions makes it unlikely they will go on to to have “normal” lives. Most end up in prison. Many of the crimes committed by youth is because they have no other way of dealing with life as it slaps them across the face. There is little guidance from the adults around them. But the youth are our leaders of tomorrow and we need to handle them with care and nurture them.

Thank you.

On the right side of the blog there are many links that will tell you much more about the lives of youth who are locked up and who are in solitary confinement. Until we find a better way of teaching kids how to live their lives, and instill in the value they have as a human being, they will continue to lash out. The adults in their lives disappoint them and don’t teach them the value of respect, for themselves or for others.

The link below is a small step in the right direction, and it is only one state. We have to fight for the the children. They are our only hope for the future. They are the leaders of tomorrow whether it is for the right things or the wrong things.