Broken System

The most insidious effects of the broken juvenile prison system are the abused and maligned youth who stuck inside of it. The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights has detailed many of the abuses in the California Juvenile Justice System:

When I first held my oldest son Jesse 17 years ago in my arms, the light in his eyes was so bright. Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, he loved to write and draw. I was amazed by his creativity and the beauty of his art.

On Mother’s Day this year, Jesse called to wish me a Happy Mother’s Day. He also told me that prison guards severely beat him and he was fearful they would continue to abuse him if he didn’t get a lawyer. You see, my son is now sitting in a cell at the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility, where he spent more than five months in solitary confinement.

The life I had imagined for my son vanished when he was locked up in California’s Division of Juvenile Justice. When Jesse told me that the people who are paid to take care of him beat him, I called Ventura prison officials. But they ignored my concerns.

It’s a mother’s worst nightmare to hear that your child is hurt and you can’t do anything about it. I will never forget my next visit with Jesse.

As he walked towards me, I saw that he had bruises on his face and lesions from repeated pepper spraying. His nose was broken and he needed surgery on his knee. It was all I could do to keep my composure.

When I hugged him, I could feel his bones because he didn’t get enough food to eat. He can barely hold a conversation with me because all he does most days is stare at concrete walls. He received no education or programming. He couldn’t even attend church.

During some of our visits, Jesse is shackled in chains. He would get blackouts in his room, and his knee still hasn’t been treated. His doctor told me he couldn’t treat Jesse’s knee because of his heart condition.

As my son spent months in solitary, he slowly became a shadow of himself. Before my son got locked up, he was healthy. Being locked up for more than 21 hours and sometimes more than 23 hours a day made my son sick.  He is physically deteriorating. His speech is slower and he seems distant now.

The prison system has broken his spirit. I wonder if he can ever heal from this trauma.

My son has made mistakes in his life. But he wasn’t sentenced to be tortured. He wasn’t sentenced to sit in a cold cell by himself all day with no help. And he wasn’t sentenced to be viciously beaten by guards. I want my son to get help. I want him to finish high school and to never go back to the DJJ. I want him to gain the skills he needs to make the right choices. I want him to breathe some fresh air and to have enough food to eat. I want him to get help when he gets hurt. But how can any of this happen if he’s sitting in a cell all day?

I know that Jesse wants nothing more than a regular, healthy life where he can, one day, have a family of his own. As a mother, I want to see the light in his eyes again.

Unfortunately, Jesse’s story is not unique. In fact it’s downright tame. In many cases, juvenile detention centers end up housing inmates who are mentally ill. Most studies, estimate the rate of mental illness in juvenile prisons nationwide is 70% . The following cases occurred under Arizona's Department of Juvenile Corrections

The girl has a history of pulling out chunks of her own hair and drawing on the walls with her feces and blood, then wiping herself with pages she’s ripped from a Bible. And she’s a cutter. The scars from her self-abuse are visible on her arms and legs.

The details of juvenile cases aren’t public, but according to someone close to her, she threatened family members and then a judge; that’s how she ended up at the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections.

She clearly requires constant supervision, but on September 21, staff at the ADJC’s Black Canyon facility in Phoenix left the girl alone in a bathroom for at least eight minutes. When a guard finally asked what was taking so long, the girl replied that she was constipated. She emerged from the stall covered in blood and deep cuts she’d made on both arms with a piece of a broken light bulb, then ran through the grounds “with blood squirting everywhere,” according to the agency’s internal documents.

The girl was handcuffed and taken to a local hospital, where she refused treatment. On the way back to the agency, she bit a staff member who tried to make her wear a seatbelt.

“It was like CSI meets like a horror movie,” one eyewitness tells NewTimes, adding that some of the cuts “were so bad, to where you could almost see the meat in them.”

It took two days to clean up the mess in the bathroom.

On May 17, a boy at Adobe Mountain claimed he fell and hit his head, causing a bloody injury, but another kid admitted to guards that the boy had purposely smashed his skull into a metal bar on his bunk bed. Guards then found a bloody staple that the boy had been using to cut his thigh. When he was escorted away, the boy announced, “You haven’t seen nothing yet!” asking, “You wanna see blood?”The guards put the boy in solitary confinement, removed his clothes, and gave him what’s called a “suicide suit” to wear. He refused, and stood undressed, hitting his wound and punching the wall with his fist, ’til staff calmed him down.

The abuses at juvenile prisons are not limited to those that are self-inflicted. Last year over 12% of inmates reported being sexually assaulted or raped. Shockingly, 80% of the acts were committed by staff. Additionally, youth are routinely denied food, medical care and toilet use, in order to curtail bad behavior.