Drug Policy

Eating Our Children

|

A new report from the Justice Policy Institute says many states are exploiting a loophole in federal law in order to incarcerate minors in adult prisons, either alongside adult prisoners (which creates obvious problems) or in isolation (which frequently leads to emotional problems, depression, and suicide). The vast majority are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses, and many are tossed in adult jails before they're even tried (while they're awaiting trial).

The report estimates 200,000 or more children are currently in adult jails and prisons. It's a fine way to help a young, nonviolent offender grow up to become a violent one.

Headline comes from Lou Dobbs, who's been using the strange phrase in his continuing(ly awful) series on addiction in America. Thing is, the drug war does far more to ruin young lives than drugs do.

Via TalkLeft.

NEXT: Reason On Your Radio

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. RE: Eating Our Children

    (thanks, S!)

    “Whenever it comes time for me to make a decision of momentous import, whenever the frantic pace of my life becomes too stressful…

    I ask myself: “What would Cthulhu do?”

    The answer, sweet answer, comes back always the same: “Eat them.”

    And just to be thorough, I ask my follow-up question: “And how would Cthulhu go about doing this?”

    And the answer, sweet answer, comes back always the same: “He’d eat them.”

    *****************

    thanks, “S” for providing this moose with such insight!

    http://callsforcthulhu.blogspot.com/

  2. Lou Dobbs is Bill O’Reilly with a more robust superego. Still a monster, but with a prettier face.

  3. VM –

    just wondering…
    do you regularly wear a ‘merkin’?

    fond regards,

  4. I was thinking the other day maybe we should go back to the system we had before mass incarceration was invented. Felony = hanging. Everything else = fine or public humiliation. Felonies were just the handful of things you memorize for the bar exam: murder, rape, arson, etc. Was that really worse?

    Also, Lou Dobbs is the future, man. One of the political parties is going to steal his act. I suppose the republicans because their God n’ gays bit isn’t selling like it used to.

  5. But don’t you see,incarcerating them keeps them safe from the cereal killers who make Envirokidz Gorilla Munch :

    http://adamant.typepad.com/seitz/2007/03/the_revolution_.html

  6. If they are in prison, at least they won’t be viewing pornography on the internet!

  7. I know this is scant relief, but we’re talking 17 year olds here, for the most part. Reason often complains that as a society we treat 16 & 17 year olds as kids. It’s a bit odd to suddenly start calling them “children” in this case.

    Which doesn’t make any of this right, yadda yadda yadda.

  8. Mike,

    right on. I fault many libertarians for their inconsistencies regarding teenagers. I cannot draw a bright line myself, but I am convinced that anyone whose age ends in “-teen” is not an adult, and therefore should not be treated as one. They should not be given the same rights as older people, nor should they be subjected to the same duties.

    Frankly, I am surprised that this thread has not attracted more comments. Maybe because so many people are (rightly) afraid of the muscular, hormone-raging, death-defying, life-hating 17-yo thug?

    I don’t want to coddle them, but I also don’t want them to be raped by muscular, hormone-raging, death-defying, life-hating, and thoroughly evil 30-yo thugs.

  9. Passim:

    Whether you like it or not, you’re an adult when you reach 18. And yeah, 18 ends a teen.

    I’m 18, but I’m not one of those dumb (no offense) myspace going – drug abusing (use and abuse are different) – parent hating thugs. I’m different, I love my parents, I don’t have a criminal record and have never been arrested or yelled at by a cop, etc, etc.

    Not all teenager’s are thugs who kill people and hate their parents, and guess what, I think people above the legal age of 18 should have full rights. Saying you don’t get rights until 20 is stupid, then what will they do? Raise drinking age to 25?

  10. I’m with Mike on the likely phoniness of calling 16 and 17 year olds “children” for shock value.

    That’s the sort of thing we rightly scoff at the liberals for “It’s for the children”.

    Not to say this is not a problem, but the term certainly misleads about its magnitude and gravity. Of course putting teens guilty of using pot, DUI or vandalism in with older hardboiled types is a terrible idea. But what about the violent ones? (at least those convicted)

    But the “children” bit makes me suspicious of even the article’s “majority are non-violent” claim.

  11. OK, Thrall.

    But, would you like for me, a hypothetical judge in a case against you, sentence you to a prison where there are people my age (37) who have been incarcerated for over a decade?

    And yes, you are indeed legally an adult. I’ll even bet that you could kick my ass. But experience counts for a great deal. And you have no idea (yet) how both good and evil in an individual will increase with time.

    Anyway, if you ever get caught smoking something illegal, I’m going to call you a “dumb kid.” In about 5-10 years, I’ll call you a “dumbass.”

    Sorry, right now, at 18, you deserve a certain level of protection, no matter what your legal status.

  12. PS: full rights equals (or should equal) full responsibility/accountability.

    Be careful what you wish for.

  13. I have a problem with drawing an arbitrary distinction between adults and children at the age of 18 but if you’re going to draw an arbitrary line I don’t think it should be adjusted in any way. The only way to get around it is to look at every individual and then create an objective “adult” test. That would be a great new government agency. They could have tests like feats of strength, lion killing, sexual prowess… you could go on and on.

  14. Passim,

    I tend to agree with you that 16-17 year olds aren’t children, but that they aren’t adults either. 18 year olds, I’m not sure what to do with those strange people (except for Thrall, of course, who rocks).

    Somewhat off topic, but I’m curious, would you consider Thrall to be a dumb kid for drinking (which is illegal for him) as well as smoking pot? Or is it getting caught that would make him dumb?

  15. Les,

    I honestly don’t know. I suspect that, if caught in something illegal, he would scream “I’m just a kid!”

    But I don’t know. I’m twice his age, so the same complaint from me would be ludicrous. I know that I am fully responsible, and fully punishable, for my acts; and therefore, I am fully entitled to demand every goddamned right in existence. I also know that my 12-yo is not fully responsible, nor fully punishable; nor is he entitled to the same rights I am.

    I just don’t know where the line exists.

    And yes, Thrall “rocks”. I’ve had similar arguments with my 15-yo. And I had the same argument with my father, who–at 72–tells me that no one under 50 should be allowed to vote. 🙂

  16. I think Bhh basically has the right idea, though I disagree about the death penalty part. Qualitatively, a 16-year-old rapist (not statutory) or murderer is little different than a 30-year-old rapist/murderer and will probably be able to hold their own in prison.

    The real issue is putting violent and non-violent offenders of any age together in prison, or putting non-violent offenders in prison at all. But of course nobody’s heart strings seem to get tugged over prison assaults against 40-year-old con artists.

  17. Reason often complains that as a society we treat 16 & 17 year olds as kids.

    Fuck you.

    It’s the government drawing the age of majority at 18. And then blurring it when it’s convenient for them. And you actually want Reason Magazine to stop the bullshitting first?

  18. Don’t forget…it’s for the children!

  19. Qualitatively, a 16-year-old rapist (not statutory) or murderer is little different than a 30-year-old rapist/murderer and will probably be able to hold their own in prison.

    Whether or not he can hold his own in prison depends on the kid, but I think a 16-year-old rapist or murderer is very, very different than a 30-year-old rapist/murderer because the brain of a 16 year old is demonstrably different (more dysfunctional, that is) than the brain of an adult. That’s not an excuse for violent behavior, and it doesn’t mean that every violent teenager should receive lighter sentences than violent adults, it’s just evidence that teenagers have to be dealt with differently than adults.

    And Russ 2000 is absolutely correct about the way the government handles teenagers.

  20. Les,

    Teenage brains are extremely functional. It’s just that they are a work in progress and the executive functions have not fully developed.

  21. Thrall,
    I agree. I have often voiced my opinion that kids should get MORE rights, lets teach them to behave responsibly sooner. I would love to give to humans between the ages of 13-18 half a vote in elections, etc.
    I grew up in a country with very loosely enforced drinking laws. The majority of kids (ages 15+) around me drank responsibly (there were of course, exceptions), unlike the U.S., turning 21 wasn’t an excuse to get alcohol poisoning and landing yourself in the hospital.

  22. de stijl,

    Bad choice of words on my part. Of course teen brains function, but they function differently than adult brains do, hence the need to treat teens differently than adults.

  23. Les,
    And my brain functions differently than yours, and a woman’s (subtly) differently than a man. So what. We are all human In essence. Our essential nature is the same. The only things teens don’t have is experience and the wisdom that comes from it.

  24. Whether or not he can hold his own in prison depends on the kid, but I think a 16-year-old rapist or murderer is very, very different than a 30-year-old rapist/murderer because the brain of a 16 year old is demonstrably different (more dysfunctional, that is) than the brain of an adult.

    Indeed, a 16-year-old murderer is probably far more likely to be a sociopath or irredeemable thug, while there’s a greater chance that the 30-year-old committed a crime of passion (estranged husband or business partner etc.) and would not be inherently violent.

    I’m not saying that no problems exist with putting teenagers in adult prisons. But anyone who has read about juvenile detention knows that it tends to be a nasty little place, also. The hardcore violent offenders are dangerous from a young age.

  25. Indeed, a 16-year-old murderer is probably far more likely to be a sociopath or irredeemable thug…

    I couldn’t disagree more, but I understand why you’d think that. If you have data on this (rates of repeat offenses by violent teens compared to violent adults, for instance), it would help convince me.

    I was a completely different person when I was a teenager than I am now (or I was when I was 25). I think the amount a person changes after his teen years is much greater than how much he changes after 30. And teens are just as passionate as adults, if not more. They fly off the handle with a lot less prodding (it’s their BRAINS, I tells ya!).

    Anyway, I agree with you about juvenile detention. It seems the common element here is that the government doesn’t know how to safely incarcerate people.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.