Juvenile Justice

According to Mark Twain, “There are three kinds of lies:  lies, damned lies, and statistics.” To most of us, statistics are drier than dust. But numbers can be revealing.

• Earlier this year, the Coalition for the Homeless reported a record-high number of 53,000 homeless regularly spending the night in New York City shelters [1]. Nearly half are children. In March, conditions at two city shelters were found to be so horrific that 400 of these homeless children had to be removed for health and safety reasons.

• Using the “zero tolerance” policy toward school violence as a basis, then popular Pennsylvania judge, Mark Ciavarella, sentenced over 2000 high school students – some without benefit of counsel – to incarceration for offenses as insignificant as swearing at another student’s mother, and creating a false MySpace page. Once in the criminal system, some remained imprisoned for years. At least one committed suicide [2] [2A].

• Pennsylvania spends $300 million annually to incarcerate juveniles. New York spends some $266,000 to incarcerate a single young adult for 12 months. This is nearly 15 times the $18,500 the state spends per year to educate a student [3].

• The United States incarcerates 5 times as many of its children as any other nation. The vast majority of these arrests are for non-violent offenses.

This is not a scientific study.  New York and Pennsylvania are just two of the fifty states.  The question, however, arises:  Are we acting in the best interests of our children? Or has the term “juvenile justice” lost its meaning?

[1] The Guardian, “New York Homeless Shelters Housing Record-High 53,000 People per Night” by Lauren Gambino, 3/12/14, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/12/homeless-new-york-city-shelters-all-time-high .

[2] New York Post, “Corrupt ‘Kids for Cash’ Judge Ruined More than 2000 Lives” by Larry Getlen, 2/23/14, http://nypost.com/2014/02/23/film-details-teens-struggles-in-state-detention-in-payoff-scandal/.

[2A] Ciavarella received a $2.2 million finder’s fee for construction of a for-profit detention center to house such young people. He was later held guilty of corruption, and 2480 of his convictions overturned.

[3] Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, “The Cost of Juvenile Justice” by Mikhael Simmonds, 6/18/13, http://jjie.org/the-cost-of-juvenile-justice/ .


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Filed under Abuse of Power, Justice, Law, Politics, Poverty

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